Saturday, 18 January 2020

Alien invasion

Aargh, I’m feeling very sorry for myself.  I’m on antibiotics and painkillers, thanks to a nasty infection inside one of my cheeks (apparently the culprit is likely a cracked tooth).  The right side of my face now resembles a cross between a Cabbage Patch doll and a chipmunk.... all swollen as if I’m storing nuts in it for the Winter, skin shiny and stretched like an overblown balloon - it’s not a good look.

And it hurts and I’m tired and and antiobiotics bring you down, don’t they?  So what do you do when you feel like shit?  You find yourself irresistibly drawn to tacky 1960s so-bad-they're-good sci-fi films ...

Thank goodness for ‘The Terrornauts’ being aired on the charming ‘Talking Pictures TV' channel earlier today.  I’ve caught quite a few gems (I almost typed ‘germs’ then, how apt) on this station, I get hooked in quite easily by anything from the ‘30s and ‘40s for instance, often with wooden acting and those strange clipped British accents that no longer exist.  And the outdated language – those frightful scoundrels!   I’m mesmerised by the décor in the houses (they can make me feel quite funny, as if I’ve been there in a previous life).  Ancient city sequences do it too – the sit-up-and-beg cars trundling down half-empty streets and thin people in hats and coats looking in Georgian-glazed shop windows, or those heady bucolic scenes where the birdsong is overpowering and you can almost smell the blossom, even in black-and-white.  Frequently the stories in these films come second, I just like immersing myself in their atmosphere.

1960s films are natural favourites too;  style and fashion and subject matters often more resonant, some evoking my own ‘60s early childhood – and movies featuring bands or groovy soundtracks are of special interest of course.   But there’s nothing quite like the ambitious yet amateurish props and op-art sets of 1960s sci-fi to soothe a sore face.

For sheer silliness ‘The Terrornauts’ (1967) had it all.  I curled up on the sofa this morning and welcomed its ridiculousness.  The main hero, Joe, played by Simon Oates, was immediately recognisable from his role in popular TV series ‘Doomwatch’ and stayed quite serious to the last even though he had to deliver a classic f’nar f’nar moment  about a strange alien device, “It’s a kind of vibrator, can’t you feel it?”  

His sidekicks were a somewhat mixed bunch including Charles Hawtrey , immediately bringing to mind the Carry On films, and Patricia Hayes, whose comically prosaic lines delivered in characteristic Cockney accent didn’t disappoint.    I love the way some people  can be abducted and transported through outer space in the middle of the night and yet they never panic...   

As hoped, and expected, there were plenty of kitchen implements too disguised as spacecraft, swimming cap headwear with wires attached (that our heroes plugged into funnels on top of boxes through which ‘knowledge’ could be transferred to their brains), a feathery sort of monster with tentacles, one crab claw and a juddering (cardboard?) eye on its side worthy of any small child’s drawing, and some nasty alien ‘savages’ with green skin wielding spears, whose thirst for (female, of course) sacrifice put actress Zena Marshall’s life in danger...  sort of.

Here's a brilliant trailer:

Just the tonic I need, especially as I'm looking and feeling like I've been invaded by aliens myself right now.  Pass the penicillin...!

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Forever punk?

"Oh YES, that’s exactly it!” I exclaimed excitedly at the telly.  Or, more precisely, at Chris Packham on the telly.  And it happened more than once as I watched the recent BBC Four programme, ‘Chris Packham - Forever Punk’;  it was that jubilant feeling of being a kindred spirit, that understanding of why a certain musical movement seemed so important to those of us who felt like outsiders in our early teenage years (and maybe still do...)   Confirmation that punk was there for us and, yes, it did change things.

I’ve never really felt I’ve been able to get this across effectively to anyone who either ‘wasn’t there’ or who only picked up on what the papers urged them to at the time.  I remember once, soon after I’d left school in the Summer of ‘79, I was talking to a friend I met at college and it turned out that her neighbour had been my former Geography teacher, Mrs T.  Apparently a conversation about me had taken place  – I’d made quite a name for myself at school being the only girl there with an overtly punk image (which got me into a lot of difficulty, but that’s another story).  Mrs T told my friend she had been surprised when I had become a ‘punk rocker’ (a term which only people who didn’t get it would use!) because I was too (in her words) "nice”...   always the quiet one, a nerdy, shy student... it didn’t fit with the media’s portrayal of punks as gobbing, spitting, fighting yobs.

I never knew any gobbing, spitting, fighting yobs who were into punk.  Not one.  Any bristling aggression against the world, against injustice, right-wing politics and persecution - all valid targets - was channelled into music.  We were harassed and insulted by many non-punks, though.  Shouted at from across the street, barred from pubs and shops before we’d even opened our mouths, chased, even beaten up for our choice of clothes and hairstyle.  All this abuse came from non-punks – and often the straightest of people.  Funny, that.  What was it they found so threatening, so offensive, about a few kids in fluffy mohair jumpers, bleached hair and badges?

One of my “Oh YES, that’s exactly it!” moments during the programme came when Chris articulated how inaccurate that thuggish tabloid caricature was and that punk had been much more about inclusiveness.  Right from the start my own experience illustrated this too – punk felt like a place where us ‘outsiders’ could be on the inside, on our own terms.  The scene at my local music venue was a perfect example; a friendly gaggle of local teenage punks alongside a motley crew of others who just fitted in for not fitting in elsewhere.  And they genuinely liked the music.  C with his shoulder-length hair and Afghan coat, L with his thick-lensed glasses and total lack of sartorial style, a good few years older than the rest of us and like a kindly uncle, plus his biker mate W.  N, who booked all the bands, a little bloke in little round specs and a big hippy greatcoat.  At one time there was J, a lovely black guy who put flour in his hair to give it a bright white streak, as well as ex-public school boy/geeky punk E.   As Chris said in this interview in the NME , “Punk was never unkind.  It was about fairness and equality.”

The documentary drew attention to the causes with which punk associated itself, such as Rock Against Racism, and how the release of the Tom Robinson Band’s single ‘Glad To Be Gay’ early in 1978 was a ground-breaking moment that could only have happened at that special point in time, proof of punk’s whole ethos of defiance and standing up for the right to be different. 

In my view punk was a brief, once-only event, and from its early, genuinely rebellious and more creative/artistic origins, aspects of  it inevitably evolved in ways that weren’t always so positive (e.g. the Oi! movement) – then, as so often happens, things became more watered down and appropriated.  But other good things happened because of it. Now too we have a whole new crop of bands clearly influenced by it (e.g. Idles, Slaves, Savages, Fontaines DC, etc.) and the state of contemporary music is all the better for them.  I guess we still call them punk but it's intrinsically different just through no longer being a new nor shocking phenomenon.   Still, if we go right back to what drew us to punk's initial incarnation all those years ago, it does make sense that its spirit should live on forever.  For me that doesn’t mean trying to dress like you did when you were 15, nor even playing your old Adverts records all that often, it’s about maintaining faith in who you are, caring about equality and staying true to what you believe in, however non-conformist that may be in the eyes of the mainstream.

I won’t give too much more away about the programme in case you haven’t seen it and want to catch it on BBC iPlayer (here), but it was interesting to see some old faces and to be reminded of how well a lot of people have come out of it (even though our teachers may have told us we wouldn’t!)  Many are still motivated to bring about some positive change in any small way they can.  I came away feeling quite uplifted and even more pleased to have this history in common with Chris, whom I’ve long been inspired by and admired for all things nature-connected anyway.  And he does have a fantastic record collection!

We’re not so bad, eh, us old punks?!

Chris Packham's all-time favourite punk song is 'Shout Above The Noise' by Penetration,
but this is the Penetration song that truly spoke to me...

Friday, 3 January 2020

Mind over matter

I’m sure it used to sizzle and spark and fizzle and twitch, that it flickered and flashed far more quickly and frequently than it does now.  To be honest, now it feels somewhat flaccid – flabby, even.  I need to find a way to fire it right up again and push it to its full potential.

My brain.

Even writing this seems to take more effort than it used to.  I sort of splutter now... I used to be more fluid, I’m sure, with ideas and thoughts almost falling over themselves to get out and onto the page, vocabulary vying for attention, sometimes a little wit (hopefully) teasing at the edges.  Is it just age, or lack of practice, or even lack of discipline, that slowly starts to erode our faculties?  Do our brains get full after so many years absorbing everything and take it upon themselves to do a bit of arbitrary weeding?  If so, I think mine has accidentally chucked out some of my more exotic blooms.   Perhaps it’s a combination of all these factors.  I’m in awe at my younger self soaking up so much in those early educational years because it was just what you did - even with all those growing up distractions like hula-hoops, The Banana Splits and boys.  Now I wonder how the hell did I manage to switch between understanding topography one minute to memorising the conditional tense in French the next?  Then go home and listen to the Clash’s first album and remember every single word in the lyrics too...

Of course, I don’t want a flabby floppy brain!  I reckon it needs a good work-out.  I want its cells to flash like fireworks, each spark igniting another until my head practically lights up with mental energy so that I can subtract 57 from 124 without breaking into a sweat and remember the name of that actor who was in that film which had that scene with that curly-haired man who was in that programme called...oh.... (definitely having more of a problem remembering names than ever).    I even bought a book once, ‘The Memory Booster Workout’, but I keep forgetting to look at it....(ba-dum tish).   In fact I feel like my brain needs a good kick up the arse, if you see what I mean.

But there is hope!   Recent research has shown it IS possible to grow new brain cells throughout our lives and keep things changing more positively.  So maybe it's worth making a concerted effort to buff up those weaker zones, and this is why I decided yesterday, albeit with a certain degree of trepidation, to put myself through the rather grandly named  ‘Great British Intelligence Test’.  Ooh!

I won’t give anything away, except to say that if you fancy doing the same it’s quite good fun in a strangely masochistic kind of way and I felt quite reassured by the results, as well as getting some insights, which isn’t a bad way to start off a new year (if you ignore the state of the world, political landscape, climate crisis, etc....)

However, my brain does still need a kick up the arse.

Read more here , test your brain power too and your results will contribute to further research (you don’t have to be UK citizen to participate).

And all the best for 2020! x

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Merry Christmas

It's the most kitsch time of the year!
Wishing you all a very happy festive season.
 (And may you never, ever have to unwrap a Hoover on Christmas morning...  *quietly seethes*)


Wednesday, 4 December 2019


The time has come for some personal reinvention!

We all feel the need for a little reinvention in our lives at one time or another, don’t you think? – whether it’s a job, a look, a home, a state of mind - whatever.  Perhaps it all seems okay and you’re just coasting along but meanwhile, in the background, something is building up.  It starts as a niggling little voice and slowly increases in volume until it becomes a roar that you can’t ignore – a feeling of dissatisfaction or boredom, or both, or more - until an internal switch flicks and you know you just have to make that change.


A lightbulb moment?  An epiphany?  

If you’ll excuse my self-indulgence, I want to write about it here because the act of expressing it helps cement my conviction (plus, as has often been said, there’s an element to blogging which can be like keeping a diary, charting particular moments in our lives).

For me, it's a work thing.  The reason I need a change is that somehow I’ve ended up in a place so far away from where I originally intended to be that I can no longer ignore the way it's making me feel.  It sort of happened without me realising.  I think of it as being like a musician who agrees once to play Agadoo at a wedding party, but then next thing you know every booking they get is for a wedding party and every song request is for Agadoo.  Then it’s not only Agadoo but, "Oh can you play The Birdie Song too please?"   Soon they’re so busy playing Agadoo and The Birdie Song at wedding parties that it's all they become known for, and they lose all sight of their original plan to release an album of Cramps covers on the accordion.

The other day I was describing a recent book I'd worked on to a friend who's known me for decades and she said, “Oh no, that's just not you!”   That’s exactly it – I can do it, I can give the publisher what they want and they’re happy – but it just isn’t meThat's okay and probably inevitable now and then, you have to stay realistic and earn a living, but so much of the work I create is not to my taste even as a viewer any more;  I frequently look at what I’ve illustrated with disdain or embarrassment.  Not quite everything, but a significant proportion - and I know that proportion is only going to keep getting bigger if I carry on along this route because each time I add to it, it reinforces that identity, and so on and so on until that's all there will be and I can't turn back.

I love being an illustrator, but I don't love enough of the things I illustrate!

That’s not how it’s meant to be, is it - not when you put all your energy into something, get stressed by deadlines and have no time left for anything else?  Surely not.  But the good thing is: this level of dissatisfaction is the motivation I need to make some changes.  Even just making a conscious decision and telling my agents about my plan has me all perky again.  It's nice to feel excited once more, instead of jaded.  I think maybe there are a few reading this who have had similar experiences in your own areas of life and will understand what I mean...  you have to listen to your inner voice.

I know there are a lot of headaches and frustrations ahead, some dedicated time off with no income (I've been saving up!), a ton of hard work plus one massive learning curve to climb - but the moment has arrived to go back to basics, develop a new creative approach and to teach myself to work digitally too.  I feel nervous, exhilarated and readier than I've ever been to give it a try.

And if all else fails

Agadoo doo doo push pineapple shake the tree...

No, an injection of X-Ray Spex instead!

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Abstract moment of the week #12

It’s a dark, doomy, gloomy world out there isn’t it, and a little light relief can sometimes come in the most unexpected of forms.  But... in the form of dog shit?!  Surely not, I hear you say.  Then let me introduce you to Puppy Poo.

Some years ago I was lucky enough to visit the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, it’s full of wonderful books and the work of some fabulously talented illustrators from around the world as you might imagine.  A brilliant experience, but overwhelming.  When it comes to artwork, it’s particularly interesting to see what’s being produced in countries with cultures very different to our own – I remember being fascinated by Middle Eastern and Asian approaches to illustration in particular, and the subjects tackled in their children’s stories, so I picked up a load of their publishers’ catalogues to peruse more sedately on my return.

Well, you know, I went through them of course, but then they get put away in the back of a drawer like so many things one collects on one’s travels, and it was only when I started having a good old clearout earlier this week that I decided to take a proper look.  This was when I found the Korean children’s book ‘Puppy Poo’.

Here’s the description, and you’ll notice the delightful illustration of a puppy actually doing its doings on the cover, if you’ll excuse the way I’ve phrased that.  Click to enlarge (if you want, they're fresh from my scanner;  I did wash my hands.)

This publisher's catalogue is going back many years so, being curious of mind (that's all...), I wondered if there was anything about this unusual book to be found online.   There is.  In searching for it I discovered that Puppy Poo, or more precisely here, 'Doggy Poo', is actually quite a celebrated character in Korean animation. A role model, one might say, the hero of a fable, an example to all.

So, my treat to you today - the trailer for the absolutely genuine short film for children, ‘Doggy Poo’.

Even turds contemplate the meaning of life... 

From Wikipedia:  After being "created" by a dog, Doggy Poo meets various living and inanimate things.  No-one wants to be his friend, and Doggy Poo becomes sad because he believes he is worthless and has no purpose.  Eventually a plant grows out of the ground and tells Doggy Poo that she needs him so she can grow into a flower.  Doggy Poo discovers his life purpose and he becomes absorbed by the flower.  After being absorbed by the flower, Doggy Poo lives "a happy life".

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Mary Mary

Something that struck me straight away was how few men were there, perhaps not surprisingly.  I only noticed a handful, one of whom was extraordinarily dapper with a liberal sprinkle of quirkiness (I'm sure I spotted sequins); I could just imagine him as an arty fashion designer.  Instead it was mostly women of the more mature variety who were wandering around the Mary Quant exhibition a couple of weeks ago at the lovely V&A Museum in London.  I went along with my sister and cousin (we all fit the above description...) and I loved it.   I also noticed that a number of particularly stylish, elegant ladies, the kind with chic white bobs and good boots, were clearly transported back in time by what they were viewing, chatting enthusiastically to their friends and sharing reminiscences as they lingered over the displays. “Oh, yes, I remember those…!”

Whilst Mary Quant’s fashion designs wouldn’t be considered controversial now,  it was interesting to remind myself that they were really quite anti-establishment at the time.  For a start they broke away from the restrictive corsetry of the previous decades - what a relief that must've been; in doing so they represented a new freedom that was more than just physical.  And they blurred the boundaries of conventional femininity with ensembles inspired by menswear, such as sharply cut suits with waistcoats and ties. Up until this point women simply wearing trousers in public was still quite unusual; embracing an even more androgynous image was sure to raise eyebrows.

“The voices, rules and culture of this generation are as different from those of the past as tea and wine,” Mary Quant wrote in the 1960s.  “And the clothes they choose evoke their lives..” she continued, “…daring, gay, never dull.” 

I’m just a little too young to have sported any of the original outfits on show from Mary Quant’s career between 1955 to 1975, but there were a few I honestly wish I could wear now, I must say.  The low-waisted wool jersey dresses, the androgynous trouser-suits, brightly coloured tights and wet-look PVC macs…some fabulous accessories too.   There’s just something about the look (and literally ‘The Look’)  plus the cut of these items that has a timeless appeal, at least to my eyes.  Perhaps it’s ironic that I think that now, being the age I am, when they were really all about youthfulness.

And a little slice of '60s mod/psych to fit the theme...

The Fresh Windows: Fashion Conscious (B-side to Summer Sun Shines, 1967)

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Gigging, ligging and leek pie - Part 3

Somewhere deep in the MoD archives, there may well exist a secret file on Mr SDS.  It will contain his personal details from over 35 years ago – his home address, his date of birth, eye colour, even the fact that at the time he had punkily altered his natural hair tint - but most importantly it will have had him classified as a potential threat to… well, what exactly?  The Thatcher Government, I presume.

And all because he played in an anarcho-punk band, one which was closely associated with Crass and who expressed some strong left-wing political views as well as being into pacifism, nuclear disarmament and anti-vivisection, that kind of thing.

I was thinking about this after looking at this rather eye-opening piece in Tuesday’s Guardian (with many thanks to the person who sent it to me!)  It's a fascinating glimpse into something that was really quite sinister.  In East Germany in the ‘80s, being a punk must have required far more bravery and resilience than over here.  Disapproving looks, name-calling and being refused entry to unfamiliar pubs was the norm for many of us who looked a little alternative in our youth, but it’s hard to imagine being automatically pulled in for questioning (or worse) by the authorities, not because you were actively protesting or involved in threatening behaviour at the time but simply because you sported an image that represented your musical taste and possible associated beliefs.  It’s worrying to think that dressing a certain way could be treated almost as a criminal act in itself; I can’t help but admire the young subjects of these old photos.

Things could still happen, however, when you were in a British anarcho-punk band who proclaimed their political opinions during the Thatcher years, and I asked Mr SDS to remind me of one particular incident.

It was 1982, and the band members were going to take some photos for their forthcoming album in a secluded spot in the countryside.  Not just any old place though; this was an area they had specifically chosen for its proximity to the site of a ‘secret’ nuclear bunker, a sophisticated fallout shelter designed to accommodate the Government in the event of such a catastrophic war.  Apparently the shelter itself, which had been paid for with public money, was a deep underground complex with blast-proof doors and was capable of holding up to 600 people. (Oh, imagine – all those politicians and their associates becoming breeding stock for a whole new post-apocalypse world!)

Anyway, maybe choosing somewhere so close to this sensitive location was asking for trouble but still they were surprised when, as soon as they’d started setting up their backdrops and banners to photograph, a man appeared seemingly out of nowhere to confront them.   He was pretty aggressive.  “We don’t need CND yellow-bellies like you around” he told them, amongst other things, and ordered them to pack up their stuff and leave.

After a brief discussion they returned to their car, the man following them for a short distance before turning off.   They thought that was the end of the matter but within minutes, again apparently out of nowhere, a police car had started tailing them.   Mr SDS said it seemed strange how quickly it appeared and they just thought it must be coincidence at first, but no, next thing you know they were being pulled over.  From then they were questioned and their vehicle thoroughly searched.  The officers had them unfurl all their backdrops for examination and even confiscated the photographic film – then took notes on their personal details and physical appearance on the spot.  Indeed Mr SDS was even quizzed about that striking hair: “Is this your natural colour?”

When they were finally allowed to continue on their way with nothing to actually incriminate them,  they were offered a stern warning, or was it more of a threat?


It seems no coincidence that shortly after this incident some of the band members' post was delivered to them, already opened...    Who knows what other surveillance was going on?  I have to wonder too what happened to those files!

Have you ever had a brush with the law for your political beliefs, or even the way you looked?  I'd love to hear.
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