Saturday 8 June 2024

Ono? Oh yes

The young woman opened her bag and took out an orange with an almost perfectly formed circle of peel missing.  The flesh beneath remained untouched, still encased in its pithy tissue.  The woman took one bite, not of the fruit, but of the peel only, pulling a small section away with her teeth and chewing it, swallowing it.  She then put the orange back in her bag.

It felt as if my afternoon of conceptual art had begun there and then, on the train to London, sitting next to this passenger with her penchant for orange peel.  (I've never seen anyone do that before, have you?)  Following that I was party to one half of a phone conversation in which the caller, seated opposite me, unashamedly declared her admiration for none other than the odious Nigel Farage.  She looked and sounded not unlike Waynetta Slob, and was excited to share her self-proclaimed brilliant and feasible idea that Farage and Starmer could collaborate and "run the country together, as they'd probably get on".  See what I mean - conceptual art, surely?!

But on to the real thing...  I was on that train to London earlier this week to meet my lovely cousin and we'd decided to visit the Yoko Ono exhibition, 'Music Of The Mind', at Tate Modern. 

I knew very little about Yoko Ono's art until now, having only really scratched the surface (the 'Cut Piece' film, the footage of  her and John's honeymoon 'Bed-In', and her vocal improvisations with the Plastic Ono Band) but came away with a mind full of her various playful, political, thought-provoking and dreamlike ideas.  There are lots of interactive elements to this exhibition too - some lovely ways for you to leave your own mark on it, literally (a favourite of mine being Shadow Piece, a white wall onto which a bright light casts your shadow, so you can draw around it with a nice chunk of graphite.  Now several months into the show, the wall is covered in a beautiful tangled mass of curving pencil lines, and it feels special to be one of its many contributors). Or you can hammer a nail into a wall - as long as you're prepared for the trade-off to be a hair from your head.  Why? I hear you ask - ah, so you can be a part of this...

PAINTING TO HAMMER A NAIL

Hammer a nail into a mirror, a piece of
glass, a canvas, wood or metal every
morning.  Also, pick up a hair that came
off when you combed in the morning and
tie it around the hammered nail. The
painting ends when the surface is covered
with nails.

1961 winter

Some might say it's a load of arty-farty bollocks, I know.  I may have done once too.  But when you enter this exhibition, if you keep your mind open, and then maybe stretch it open even further, you can just enjoy a chance to think in a different way for a while.  Yoko Ono's way.   I think this is perhaps no better exemplified than in her 'Instructions' pieces, like the one above.  Simply presented in both typewritten English and  tiny handwritten Japanese characters, to me these really sum up the Conceptual Art movement, where the concept itself is the art, rather than a realisation of it. It kind of messes with my head but - it feels good, like discovering a secret chamber somewhere deep in my mind, I'm sure I might find some treasures in there I didn't know I had.    I found these pieces inspiring, sometimes funny, often philosophical, and I'm sure I'm not alone in wanting to try a few out.  Maybe like this mischievous one? 

CONVERSATION PIECE

Bandage any part of your body.
If people ask about it, make a story
and tell.
If people do not ask about it, remind
them of it and keep telling.
Do not talk about anything else.

1962 summer

Or maybe not...

BLOOD PIECE

Use your blood to paint.
Keep painting until you faint (a)
Keep painting until you die (b)

1960 spring

There are many more moving, serious installations too.  A single gunshot hole in a piece of glass with an invitation to go to the other side and see through it needs no further explanation.  Everything here seemed to have an element of hope about it, though.  It was also great to see some lovely early photos, film, fascinating ephemera, music with various collaborators too (a John Cage piece did wonders for my tinnitus) and even - brace yourself - some 'actual' drawings too, in the form of Yoko's pleasingly delicate pen and ink images, which I really like (apologies for poor quality photos):




Yoko Ono was 91 this year and has been creating and performing for seven decades, how on earth do you cover everything?  I don't know, but I'm glad to have seen this comprehensive selection while she's still around, and a lot of it will stay in my mind for some time, which I wasn't necessarily expecting.  

See more at https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/yoko-ono/exhibition-guide

Monday 13 May 2024

Free games for May

Sorry, sorry, sorry!  I've been terribly bad at keeping up with things but I am still here. Just spending fewer prolonged periods in front of a screen these days - and still don't seem to have enough time to do everything I want to do!  I've been on a bit of a creative trip to destinations unknown lately which has only served to confirm my suspicions that I am and always have been very much an analog girl.  In spite of that, blogging remains the source of such interest, pleasure and especially lovely connections that I really don't want to lose it, so I must put some effort in!

While I was out yesterday, my mind joined my feet in an aimless meander and I was reminded of how sometimes in my more prolific blogging moments I enjoyed taking you for a walk with me and I thought, perhaps I can actually get writing about that again? 

Come on, come with me!

We can go down beyond the main thoroughfare of the village and then turn off from the hub-bub of traffic to find ourselves in a quiet lane.  I adore this route, especially at this time of year.  We'll wander past the low roofed chapel now converted into a house, the backs of gardens of a red bricked Victorian terrace and then the human formalities start to give way to wild verges.  I always was a little drawn to the wilder verges of life.  This one would appear to be very attractive to cats too.

Then, well, it's blissful. There are meadows either side and you can smell and hear an English May without even looking; the heady scent of new blossom and cow parsley, an orchestra of insects, a symphony of lusty birdsong.  Wren, blackbird, robin, chiffchaff.  I get a funny (in a good way) feeling when I'm out like this - it must be connected to childhood memories, I'm sure.  I find the timelessness of it incredibly evocative, deep-rooted and uplifting - does it do something to the brain perhaps and induce a dopamine high?  For me it's as intoxicating as any physical substance, and I can still walk in a straight line.


The lane runs alongside a tributary and down to a weir but we won't go that far today, instead just take in the view of the lane and bridge curving around, the shadows of trees striating the road. 

If we were to carry on we could cross a couple of fields of cowpats (probably some cows too) and find one of those WWII pill boxes - this area of East Anglian countryside was one of the most heavily fortified in the country.  Defence lines of pillboxes, anti-tank blocks, deep ditches and barbed wire were drawn across the landscape to obstruct armoured columns which were expected to move inland should they manage to breach the ports and beaches.  I try to imagine how it must have felt living in such a rural and sparsely populated environment then, far removed from the cities, yet with these constant reminders of the possibility of invasion. But being here today it's so peaceful, whatever else is still sadly going on in the world in a similar vein, and I just can't.  Instead I'm lucky - lost in the sensory escapism of nature and my cherry-picked memories of perfect dappled riverbanks and bike rides and buttercups.  

For the return journey we can take a little detour past the allotments.  Say hello to the chickens and some ruddy-cheeked men in checked shirts discussing their cucumbers and on to the Village Hall.  There's a Book Fair here today - £1 to get in - how could you resist?   Mmm, the smell of old books, comics, postcards, maps....the smell of the hall itself, all coffee and floor polish and sunshine on curtains.  The low murmur of people enthusing about their stamp collections and Rupert annuals.  It's all rather lovely, a safe space for us nerdier members of the species.  And I'm drawn to so many items!  I come away with just this one, utterly enticed by its kitschness.




Heading home now we can pass this noble doorstep guardian

this old street grit bin which I really like for some weird reason

and take a couple of photos which I won't show here because instead I'll be sending them to John for his monthly photo challenge post!

Then dive back into the shade of trees and across the wooden footbridge over another part of the tributary which is looking particularly photogenic today.  An older man stops for a chat and talks about how he used to swim in there as a young lad, having lived here all his life. The resident swans will swim down here soon too, with cygnets to follow, hopefully.

At the bottom of the hill there's the young lad I often see with his skateboard. He's never with anyone else but is so obviously into his board and honing his skills on the tarmac path outside the big house.  I've often thought perhaps he's a bit of a loner, a little geeky, a little outside of the mainstream as he's always alone, practising, practising, not looking up.  But this time - oh, he has a girl with him!  A sweet-looking girl with an angelic face and a coy demeanour; he's holding her hand as she tries to keep her balance on the skateboard, gently encouraging her.  He looks over and for the first time he smiles.  I don't even know this lad but, well, I'm feeling all chuffed for him!

Onward up the hill and there's something alien hiding behind this hedge which makes me smile (turns out it's a small digger)

And just in case you need a further boost there are resources at hand a few doors up...

But sometimes I reckon a good walk can give you just the high you need.


"...you'll lose your mind and play

 free games for May..."

Sunday 25 February 2024

7 Teen seconds

I found myself feeling all unexpectedly soppy and fondly reminiscent about something on telly the other day.  I was watching one of those repeats of old Top of the Pops episodes being aired by BBC Four, this particular one being from 7th February 1980.  The line-up encapsulated the period perfectly - an eclectic mixture including The Selecter and The Specials alongside Queen and Cliff Richard, *AC/DC, The Chords and The Tourists.  What a delightful pot-pourri of pop, with a couple of exposed hairy chests, some pork pie hats and a peculiar horsetail (?) head-dress thrown in for good measure (I leave you to work out who wore what), but the act that really did it for me - and I was surprised at the effect they had all these years later - was The Regents, performing '7 Teen'.

Ah... what a time.  It was the year I was going to turn 7teen too, so there was that connection, and I really did like the song - just not quite enough to buy it.  But the thing that really got me on seeing it now was the reminder that it was a time when you could be the lead vocalist in a band and go on-stage on a TV show wearing a non-descript red sweatshirt type top and tape a couple of home-made 'pad' things onto your shoulders.  Like epaulettes.  But stuck on with white gaffer tape.  And your two backing vocalists were fresh-looking and un-self conscious, having the time of their lives, ramping up the silliness with their unpretentious charm, as if they were just playing around in front of a bedroom mirror.  I could imagine going to college with them - I love the thought that we could've been mates and found myself envisioning them rehearsing in the lunch-hour; the  naive, swaying back-and-forth, side-to-side dancing that we all did - getting the giggles.  Oh!  I want to be in The Regents!

You also have to love a song which includes the words "she's a beautiful mutation" (so new wave!) and if they could only have got away with it I wish they could have performed it with its original mention of "a permanent erection".  That was how it was first released in 1979 but (of course) an alternative censored version needed to be issued to ensure its radio play (and subsequent hit status) so we lost the erection to a permanent reaction...  All good, though.  

Anyway, I do like it when you've forgotten or pretty much dismissed something from the past and then it sneaks up and surprises you in the sweetest of ways.  When it takes you back and makes you smile and reminisce affectionately, even though it also reminds you that that particular time is never to return.  And when it makes you just want to watch it and hear it again...

The Regents: 7 Teen

*Special mention must also go to a particular line in AC/DC's 'Touch Too Much' which was shown in this episode:

"She had the face of an angel, smiling with sin, the body of Venus with arms"  With arms.

Monday 22 January 2024

In and out and in and out

She's here!  With a pretty, pearly red complexion she's only a cheap model but I'm finding my way around her buttons and the slinky way she moves.  All I have to do is to unpop her leather straps and with my fingers in all the right places, give her a good squeeze and, ooh, she makes the sweetest (and loudest!) sounds...  

Oh, I know, everything about a squeezebox screams innuendo and that's just fine by me.  I love her! I love my little concertina. I itch to play, make music and embrace her bellows; oops, there we go again.  But don't you think there is something very sexy about the whole accordion family (in the right hands)?  

The rewarding thing about this new hobby is that it's not hard to make some half-decent noises (dependent on your point of view...) in spite of lack of experience.  Single notes, scales, simple chords too - even on their own those chords can sound delicious.  It's firing up parts of my brain which haven't been in use since primary school when learning to play the theme tune from 'The Wombles' on the recorder with its chewed mouthpiece, the taste of wet wood on my tongue, trying not to dribble.  I think the concertina is actually much more pleasurable to dabble on, even though it's a big challenge to my grey matter in trying to remember (on this one anyway, the Anglo concertina) that you get different notes on moving in and out.  But I definitely want - need! - the mental exercise, and an instrument you can play without smudging your lipstick or getting splinters in your tongue is definitely a bonus too.

Evidence suggests that it can improve cognitive strength, memory, motor skills and co-ordination, reduce stress, etc., plus I was reading an article the other week which mentioned how it can help creativity.

"There is something about enabling yourself to try things and not have expectations about what you will produce," said 2019 Turner Prize winner Helen Cammock, who is now having trumpet lessons.  Anne Ryan, an Irish artist who works in paint, ceramics and sculpture, took up tap dancng for similar reasons and said, "I'm crap at it but I come out glowing and feeling like I have spread a little bit of love..."

I know I'm crap at this too, but the glowing feeling is happening.  After a couple of ten-minute sessions a day with the bedroom door shut (is there no end to this double entendre?)  I feel motivated and de-stressed.  Unfortunately, especially given this modest instrument's quite shocking volume, I doubt the neighbours feel the same (more like distressed) but give it time (sorry, neighbours).  If I can keep it up I'd like to be able to play along to something different, oh I don't know what - Bowie, Clash, Small Faces....obscure '60s psych perhaps?!  Just what the world needs, some bad concertina covers... 

But I'm enjoying it. And if anyone here knows how to play a 20-button Anglo concertina and can share some tips, they'd be most welcome; I'm sure the neighbours would agree.

At Martin's suggestion last time:

The Who: Squeeze Box

(Top photo shows 1920s actress Winifred Westover)

Sunday 7 January 2024

In stitches, part two

Well, it's been a very long time coming but on this dull January day the moment is right for me to bestow upon you some more fine fashion tips from the pile of old knitting magazines which had me oohing and ahhing for all the wrong reasons a few years ago.

If your life is a little short of levity at the moment, I can honestly recommend a quick browse through the pages of some 1960s editions of 'Pins and Needles' for some mindless therapy.  

Of course exercise is also good therapy - one hour of high intensity knitting in an unheated room burns up 174 and a half calories (... don't check that...) -  but it turns out there's an easier way to shed a few post-Christmas pounds (and heat the room at the same time with the flush from your cheeks): try holding embarrassingly awkward poses for a family photoshoot wearing only your newly created woolly sports undies...



You can read whatever you like into this one... (and click to enlarge).  Promises, promises.



And if only life were this simple... hmm... 



"Start something exciting?"  Only as long as you also know how to cast off, as he's looking a bit shifty to me.


There's nothing remotely patronising in the tone of these ads, oh no





But I fear that after a lifetime of knitting for my husband I could end up looking like this...



...much to the horror of everyone else, including Tom Jones (as if giant daffodils weren't scary enough)



But the knitting isn't limited to golf jackets and nightmare dolls - why not crochet a bowl?  Or, to put it more aptly, why crochet a bowl?



Ditto the above...


Happy New Year!

Sunday 24 December 2023

'Tis the season to be arty

Well, it wouldn't be Christmas around these parts without posting some slightly less than conventional Yuletide pictures!

Hoping to improve my concentration levels next year and be a bit more present on the blogs, I've been very neglectful....  In the meantime, here's wishing you a happy, peaceful festive time and thank you for everything.


Artist and designer Erté, 1920s

Fashion illustrator Rene Gruau, 1950s/60s


Marc Chagall, 1930


Andy Warhol


Edward Hopper, 1928




Picasso, 1959


Picasso


Norman Rockwell


Brian Wildsmith


Salvador Dali, 1968


Salvador Dali

x


Friday 3 November 2023

Snapshots of an English town

Two more stops and I would've landed in Wivenhoe.  I didn't - I got off the train from London on Tuesday night at the usual junction and took the connecting one back to Suffolk, but I was sorely tempted to carry on to that small estuary town just South East of Colchester in the hope of bumping into someone whose music, words and philosophies have very much made me smile in recent days.  The brief fantasy flitted through my mind as the onboard announcement listed the stations yet to come -  oh, if I could only disembark in Wivenhoe and magically spot him in the street, I would tell Martin Newell exactly how much I had just enjoyed reading his book, 'A Prospect of Wivenhoe, Snapshots of An English Town'.

There's such a lot one can say about Martin Newell, he's been around the music scene for decades and I first came across him in the late '70s when he strutted his stuff with his band Gypp at my local gigging haunt, an intimate music venue/arts centre at the far end of my town.   I saw so many bands then - sometimes three or four a week (including school nights).  Only a few stood out that well or went on to greater things, but the memory of him as a compelling, and frankly rather scary (to me anyway) in a glam-rock-yet-Dickensian-way frontman  - endures.  The next time I was aware of him was much later in the highly recommended book 'Lost In Music' by Giles Smith, who was at one time a member of Martin's band The Cleaners From Venus.  And then....well, for the most part I didn't think too much about him, nor hear much more of his music, until being pleasantly reminded by an excellent now-retired music blogger from Seattle...  Here I must divert you to Brian's brilliant blog should you want info, insight and some fine songs, as his knowledge of Martin Newell's output over the years far exceeds mine.

As for this post, I simply want to express my appreciation of one of Martin's literary works  which I decided to buy after his name came up again in conversation with a lovely friend.  It's the book mentioned earlier which I've now just finished reading - described on the back cover in his own words as being: 

"...a work of the greatest affection.  It is about Wivenhoe.  It is about East Anglia.  It is about England."

Being English and having lived in East Anglia since the age of three, there's much that resonates, but I think too there's an awful lot that would still be meaningful and interesting wherever and whoever you are, not least because Martin has such an engaging way of story-telling and skilfully sketching out the characters from the real-world tales in which they starred.  Like all the most charming memoirs, it's a perfect blend of relatable, ordinary(ish) daily life with the eccentric, the bizarre and the left-field, beautifully seasoned with humour, politics and a poetic turn of phrase.  As I devoured the book in bed every night last week I could so easily imagine the characterful houses and pubs, the ageing professor with his big garden, the bus ride to Brightlingsea, the picketing miners who lodged in the cellar, the May Fair with its raucous bands, cider punks and its "dense alien cloud of cheap hairspray and dope fumes." - plus so much more.  And not just because I live in East Anglia.

Perhaps one of the best things I took away from this book, however, is that oft-needed reminder that in a world where much that was once considered non-conformist has been appropriated by the masses, your true artists, bohemians, offbeats, free thinkers, etc. are still out there, always have been and always will be.  A reminder that life doesn't have to be neat and tick all the societal boxes, that we should stay true to who we are and not feel pressurised to fit in with something that doesn't naturally sit right with us.  Maybe that all sounds a bit deep but I find myself increasingly clinging onto these reminders, perhaps because it sometimes feels that the margins they/we inhabit are getting ever smaller.  But to delve into Martin Newell's world, albeit one from the past in this particular case, felt... well, like having a brilliant, satisfying conversation with a much-loved and familiar but eminently interesting friend you haven't seen in ages, and to realise you're not alone.  Perhaps a lot like blogging too.

I leave you with one of my favourite paragraphs from the book which just sums that up for me, where our narrator fondly describes the family from whom he rented a small studio:

"This was a family and here was a portrait of them.  There was a bloke who did an unusual job, a cheerful woman, an angelic-looking eleven year old boy, a deviant dog and a masochistic cat.  And there among all the exercise books, the film scripts, the uncompleted homework, the waiting tenants, the endless visitors and all the chaos, was life.  Not conventional life, not a half-asleep, better-drive-to-Tesco-you-don't-have-to-be-mad-to-work-here-but-it-helps sort of a life.  But a real life - with motorbike spares left where they shouldn't be, a washing-basket next to a book of medieval history and a pub sign for The Fool and Bladder - a prop from Steve's film - in the backyard."

I love it.  

Oh, and of course, a song!

The Cleaners From Venus: Summer In A Small Town

'A Prospect of Wivenhoe - Snapsots of an English Town' by Martin Newell was published by Wivenbooks in 2008 and is still available from some online retailers... mine cost lest than a fiver.  


Tuesday 10 October 2023

The serious stuff

Our lovely blog pal Rol has been running an excellent, thought-provoking series over at the ever brilliant My Top Ten, about mental health. I hope you won't mind, but I'm also reposting something on the subject, which I wrote several years ago.

--- ~~~~~  *** --------- *** --------- *** ~~~~~ ---

Today, October 10th, is Mental Health Awareness Day. It makes a change from the recent International Talk Like A Pirate Day (September 19th), which sounds quite dignified really compared to Step In A Puddle And Splash Your Friend Day (January 14th). You might be interested to know that there is also a Noodle Day, a Mad Hatter Day, a Cherry Cheesecake Day and a Do Something Nice Day, amongst others.  I don't really like the idea of having set days for anything; I'd rather we just talked like pirates, stepped in puddles and splashed friends, ate noodles and cherry cheesecake in mad hats and did something nice any time and any day we felt like it - but I can't knock any attempt to encourage openness on mental health issues, and it seems like today's the day.

Back in the early '70s, when my mum stopped getting up in the mornings, surfacing only occasionally during the afternoon or early evening to replenish her glass of water, I was told that she was ‘ill’. Yet there was no sneezing or coughing or chicken pox spots so it was a different kind of illness to the ones I knew about. I can’t remember what else was said about it and, being only eight, I was more preoccupied with my own small world, which was no bad thing. But when mum came downstairs on a dark, wintry evening and headed straight out the front door with just her dressing-gown over her nightie and slippers on her feet, it was obvious something was seriously wrong.

I just have a blurry memory of the rest of that night – I recall her dressing-gown which was powder blue with white trim, and those pink fluffy slippers, and I remember what she said as she started to walk out the door and down the road.  My dad ran after and somehow persuaded her back inside, but I must have blanked out any more detail after that. Whatever happened resulted in mum being admitted to the Psychiatric Ward of our local hospital, where she stayed for some weeks.

Visiting her in such surroundings was disturbing but, unfortunately, it became something that I had to do on several different occasions in different hospitals over subsequent years.  It's a weird thing for a child; an unnerving place, but at the same time I was aware that my mum was 'supposed' to be there with those people.  They were all grown-ups after all, people whom I thought were meant to be looked up to and relied upon. That was probably the bit I found hardest with my mum; my first memorable experience of an insecure feeling: the realisation that I couldn't depend on her, that she wasn't really 'there'.   Anyway... in the Psychiatric Ward with its cheerily patterned curtains and orange chairs, there was always a man who thought he was Jesus and stories of strange behaviours abounded: the lady who’d made a habit of running down the busy high street without any clothes on, and the blank-faced man who thought he was still fighting in WWII.  And always someone who thought they'd had a radio implanted in their brain to listen to their thoughts.  

Mum was diagnosed as having clinical depression (as opposed to manic), which sounds very gloomy, and gives the impression of someone who mopes around every day and never smiles, but which is not what she was like at all.  There was just something going on which, combined with certain aspects of her personality and some traumatic life events, made her susceptible to some very deep lows. When she wasn't suffering from these, she was incredibly kind, chatty, strong, reassuring, gregarious, warm, broadminded and creative, always doing things for other people (often befriending and taking in various waifs and strays with their own mental health problems, and doing voluntary work for charities like Mind). But when she went downhill she just lost interest in everything and withdrew from the world. During her later years, with the help of good, understanding doctors and the right mix of drugs, she was able to pretty much manage it by simply shutting herself away until it passed. It was really only on the very worst occasions that it affected her behaviour in more severe and worrying ways and made her say and do things which were, quite frankly, a little mad.

Stating the obvious but it's a depressing and difficult subject, yet it touches so many people, either those who experience it first hand (and I don't believe any of us are immune) or those who know them. I can feel myself tensing slightly as I write because it brings back that sort of unsafe feeling of discovering that the grown-up parent I thought I could lean on wasn't always that, and deep-down that fear of the unravelling of 'normality'.  Nowadays, though, I wonder more about how life must have felt for my mum at those times, how much worse it was for her than for me. I feel sure that her mental health crises at least taught me a lot, and hopefully provided me with a better understanding and empathy.  And if that's also the intention behind having a Mental Health Awareness Day then I truly hope it succeeds.

Thinking of those whom I know are struggling with their mental health at the moment and here's hoping for far better days ahead.
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