Monday 31 December 2012

Party fears too...

Now, you know me, I’m generally quite a happy soul with a habit of looking on the bright side, but I’ve realised that I don't actually like New Year’s Eve very much. 

Like most memorable anniversaries it seems to carry with it an underlying mood or association that, even when the events of that day are different every year, still automatically colours the way I view it in my mind, the way I feel it.   New Year’s Eve to me is:

Dark blue…  yawning…  shadows…  waiting…  the word ‘should’… bad parties…

Oh god, that party in December 1977.  I got stuck with a boy I didn’t fancy at all*.  I spent the entire evening trying to put him off, to no avail.  So I tried some kind of blank generation strategy. I told him that I had no name.  I told him I lived nowhere.  I thought you could get away with that sort of thing when you were fourteen and into Johnny Rotten (but it just seemed to add to my apparent allure).  When my dad came to pick me up in his car the illusion of my nameless non-existence may have been somewhat shattered, but it was worth a try.

And what about that party in 2004? The evening was dominated by the local self-styled ‘comic’, who seemed to have a talent for omnipresence - everywhere you turned he was there like a bad smell - but none for making people laugh, although this didn’t stop him from spewing out his ageing jokes and punning (badly) every five minutes.  There are a lot of five minutes in the lead up to midnight….We were ready to spew something ourselves, and not just because we’d eaten too many Pringles.

There have been one or two other uncomfortable New Year's Eve celebrations too, and if you have ever seen the film 'Don's Party', you may understand where I'm coming from.

So, no partying for us this year, but I probably will yawn and I probably will wait until midnight and I probably will think about all those ‘shoulds’ (and ‘should not’s).  It’s dark blue outside.  I'm staying in the shadows!

Happy New Year to all who kindly take the time to pop over here and have a look, listen or read!  Thank you.

(And I really do hope you have a good New Year's Eve, party or no party...)

"I have no name.  I live nowhere."

* In retrospect he looked a bit like Howard Devoto.  I met him again years later when he started on the Fine Art course at my college.  We went for lunch a few times and he was great to talk to - thankfully it seemed he'd forgotten all about the previous embarrassing encounter...

Thursday 27 December 2012

Master of puppets

Lady Penelope in her Creighton Ward mansion

I expect loads will be written about Gerry Anderson this week and deservedly so; therefore I won't say much here.  But, as I was a child in the sixties, I just want to mention that (like many others) I have fond memories of watching 'Captain Scarlet' and 'Thunderbirds' in particular.  They appealed on so many levels - perhaps the main one, for me, was the inclusion of some wonderful female characters.  I loved Lady Penelope (although Parker scared me a little - redeemed only by the fact that he did look a bit like my Granddad) and those feisty Angel Interceptor pilots.  Spin-off merchandise may have been a little less sophisticated back then but I absolutely adored the card 'Cut Out and Dress' dolls I owned for Lady Penelope and Rhapsody Angel.  Lady P came with a picture of her wardrobe with doors that opened out, and some very classy paper trouser suits to dress her in.  Rhapsody Angel (and my sister's Harmony Angel) were accompanied by big fold-out scenery backgrounds - imaginary worlds I frequently got lost in, even though they were only one dimensional.  Rhapsody was gorgeous, wasn't she?!  But then, all the Angels were.  I read a while back that their facial features (all apart from Symphony's apparently*) were based on real people - e.g. Destiny was inspired by Ursula Andress, Rhapsody was taken from Jean Shrimpton and Melody was modelled on Eartha Kitt (that one surprised me a little!)

Then there was the music...   I know we've heard it a million times before but it still sounds good to me.

Gerry Anderson 14.04.1929 - 26.12.2012

* but she looks a bit like Britt Ekland, don't you think?

Monday 24 December 2012

Joyeux Noel

(See what I did there?)

Just to say...   Many thanks for being there and for coming here; I hope you have a really good one, whatever, and however, you're doing.

I think I'll be spending most of mine in my shedio!  Desperate to make up for a crap 2012 I've taken on too much work (I'm just a girl who can't say "no"...)  I may emerge, blinking, some time in February.  2014?

Enjoy your sprouts!


And here's a High Flying Bird...

Friday 21 December 2012

Down at the Doctors...

No time to post more at the moment but the lovely folks over at the excellent music blog, Tune Doctor, recently asked if I'd contribute a little guest piece for their 'Tracks of the Year' series.   I was honoured (thank you!) - although I confess my listening choices have been rather behind the times these last twelve months.  It made me realise just how bad I've been at keeping up and how hard I am to impress these days!

Anyway, if you're interested please pop over there and have a listen.  Any thoughts you may have of me snarling along to the Pistols this year may be dashed, though...

Saturday 15 December 2012

ThE ghoSt of chRiStMaS pAst

It was Christmas 1977 - I was fourteen and there was only one thing I really wanted for my present that year (apart from being asked out by a gorgeous boy): Never Mind The Bollocks...  And, sweetly, my parents bought it for me – well, I think they probably persuaded my twenty-year-old sister to go into the little local record shop, Startime, to actually get it, but it makes me smile to think of my mum looking at it later while she wrapped it up in sparkly snowman paper.

I loved that album and it had seemed a long wait since its release that October so I was incredibly excited to have it at last.  I listened to it on Christmas morning as I lounged about in my pyjamas playing with the cats and poring over a Cadbury’s Selection Box. And then I put it on again on Boxing Day, when the cousins were over, but after a soporfic lunch and everybody was too drowsy and tipsy to notice the lyrics to ‘Bodies’.  Or if they did, they never said anything…   

Shocking stuff ;-)

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Meet Mr Spiky

No, this is nothing to do with the echidnas in my last post!  Instead here’s what we affectionately call Mr Spiky, a sculpture (?) that hangs on the living room wall. 

It’s about three feet wide by two and half feet high and is made of 41 thin metal pieces that look as if they're floating (but are attached to a supporting framework).  I have absolutely no idea whose creation it is.  I know my mum bought it at least twenty years ago but I can’t remember exactly when, that it represents sails (shimmering on a sea in the sunlight I presume) and that she was very excited about getting it.  When she died I kept a few bits and pieces of artistic interest from her house; this was one.  I packed some boxes of pottery and books and the 1970s bamboo lobster pot stool into the back of my little Peugeot 106, and laid Mr Spiky on top of them to take home.  Each of those 41 metal quadrangles is so sharp-edged I had visions of doing an emergency stop and it coming flying at my neck from the back seat, resulting in some gory Jayne Mansfield-style decapitation. 'Woman Killed By Dead Mother's Sculpture', the headline in the local paper would read.  With this lethal weapon behind me I don’t think I’ve ever driven so cautiously, nor been quite so prepared to actually run over a hapless rabbit should it have crossed my path, rather than have to brake suddenly.

Mr Spiky still causes injuries now and then - it’s hard to keep free from dust and cobwebs without getting scratched in the process (me, I mean) - but generally it remains untouched.  I’m so used to it now that I don’t really see it, and forget that it’s there, with a pile of CDs and a guitar below it, just part of the furniture.

We’ve talked about getting rid of it, to make room for shelves or a bookcase or something more functional, but I’ve still got a soft spot for this piece of metallic art.  I like the way the light catches the ‘sails’ differently at various times of day, and I like the fact that somebody took great care over it - albeit in a rugged, metalworking kinda way, and made something quite beautiful from a basic element.  I wish I knew who that person was, though, and I don’t know how to find out.

Just please don't say it looks like a swastika!

It had to be... Metal Dance

Thursday 6 December 2012

Spines and Someloves

I’ve been taking some virtual trips to Australia this week to research animals for a potential book job and in so doing I’ve fallen in love with the echidna.

Sixteen years ago I took a real trip down under but I never got to see one of these spiny little sweethearts in the flesh.  I wish I had.  From looking at photos of them they seem such characterful creatures, and I’m having fun trying to draw their ridiculously long snouts and their somewhat comical little faces.

What is it about Australian animals, though? – they’re just so weird.  Echidnas are mammals, but they lay eggs, with leathery shells like lizards’ eggs.  They carry these in a pouch.   The mother echidna then oozes milk from her belly – she doesn’t have teats – and the newly hatched baby sucks this from her skin.  The baby echidna is endearingly called a ‘puggle’ – which sounds  like something out of a children’s TV programme by Oliver Postgate to me (yes I know, I’m probably thinking of the Pogles…)  Or maybe there’s a band name there? Yay! - the Puggles are playing Glastonbury!  Then again, maybe not.

So… I’m now sketching echidnas and have the difficult task of trying to show one cuddling a baby kangaroo; my imagination is really being put to work.  But, I hope I get the job.

Anyway here are some echidnas.  In doing my research I also came across a youtube video featuring them, titled, ‘The World’s Most Terrifying Penises’.  I’ve yet to watch it….and decided not to post it here although I admit it was tempting.  Instead let’s have some Australian music… I bought a tape of the Someloves’ album* when I was in Sydney and they still sound like perfect Antipodean pop to me.

* Thanks to a friend who'd introduced me to them a few years beforehand...

Thursday 22 November 2012

Not much of a post but some posters

Oh!  Time is ticking by and it seems I've not had enough of it to write a new post for over a week.  I've decided that my brain, which I've known for some time is divided into some very distinct and often handy compartments, finds particular conflict between writing and drawing.  When I'm not doing much picture-making, the words take over, but when I'm really busy at the drawing board, I seem to find it hard to write.  From this you may ascertain that it's been a while since I've been really immersed in any intensive art work - but that I've got a load of illustration to get on with right now.  This is of course a good thing, and I love what I do - but I don't want to neglect the blog either!  So, as a little pot-boiler, I'll just leave you with a link to a place that I've only recently discovered (thanks to a recommendation) and which I really like... Quad Royal.

It's full of great pictures, and the words are good too.


Wednesday 14 November 2012

Soft furry love

Here's a little teaser for you.

What's this?

It's not quite the same kind of soft furry love referred to in my previous post - but still it's soft and furry and lovely (although it can cause a rash...)

Found this little chappy on the wall today: 

A soft furry lovely caterpillar.

I guess he's looking for somewhere safe and warm to spend the winter before he pupates next Spring. By the magic of metamorphosis of course, which absolutely blows my tiny mind, he'll later become a beautiful Garden Tiger moth.  Wow.  Talk about re-inventing yourself.

He needs a soundtrack too.  Something fuzzy and raw, I think.  A little rough around the edges.  But are there any fuzzy, raw, rough around the edges songs with caterpillary connections?


Downliners Sect: White Caterpillar

Monday 12 November 2012

Garth Williams, racial rabbits and senseless censorship

My current infatuation is with the artwork of Garth Williams. 

This must be one of his most well-known images…

...and his drawings inside are wonderful.  Apparently it’s the best-selling children’s book of all time, first published in 1952.  I’m so glad they’ve kept the same illustrations in various reprints.

What I didn’t realise until embarrassingly recently was that I already owned two books illustrated by Garth Williams; in fact I’ve had them for over forty years and simply hadn’t appreciated that he was the same artist responsible for that memorable work. I hung onto only a handful of books from my childhood and the reason I kept these two in particular was that they just evoked so many feelings.  The pictures took on a kind of magical quality for me as a toddler; I was captivated.

From 'Bedtime For Frances' written by Russell Hoban (1963)
This book helped me through many a bedtime fear...

From 'A Tale Of Tails' written by Elizabeth H MacPherson (1965)
I  felt like I really knew each creature on every page.

And I’m still captivated, so I’ve been delving back to see what else Garth Williams illustrated.  Oh, there’s a lot - over ninety books!  He had an interesting and creative life which you can read about elsewhere but one little snippet I thought I’d share here is the controversy surrounding a book he wrote and illustrated in 1958 called ‘The Rabbit’s Wedding’.   I think most illustrators, when developing a pair of story-book rabbit characters who were frequently going to be shown together, would have done exactly as he did and made them each a different colour.  It’s an obvious way to distinguish them as well as being aesthetically pleasing.  However, back then, the Alabama library system decided that the depiction of a white rabbit getting married to a black rabbit was clearly a piece of integrationist propaganda and removed the book from circulation.   Somebody even went so far as to suggest that it was ‘brainwashing’.  I love Williams’ response: "I was completely unaware that animals with white fur, such as white polar bears and white dogs and white rabbits, were considered blood relations of white beings. I was only aware that a white horse next to a black horse looks very picturesque,” he said.  He added that 'The Rabbit’s Wedding' wasn’t written for adults, who "will not understand it, because it is only about a soft furry love and has no hidden message of hate.”

In some respects, things haven’t changed as much in the last fifty years as you might expect.  Sadly many editors and publishers still look at books aimed at innocent-minded children through the cynical, tainted eyes of adults.  Now, you’re probably a bit pushed for time and I do appreciate you sparing some of it to look at this post, but if you have a few minutes more then I urge you to read this article from just a couple of years ago.  It’s about banned books - oh, and as it says in the strapline, ‘Tibet, sausages and masturbating mice’ (I’m hoping that’ll reel you in…)  It's very funny but the facts may surprise.

I’ve experienced a little of the ‘masturbating mice’ type scenario myself (ha…you’ll have to read the article!  But I’ll save you a few moments if you haven’t yet, it’s in the paragraph headed ‘No sex please, we’re American').  On more than one occasion I’ve had to tweak some of my children’s book illustrations after they were judged to be too, ahem,  sexual  For instance, a mummy bear lying on her back cuddling her baby bear who is on her tummy, their faces close together - that was one where I had to make an adjustment to the position of mummy bear’s legs.  Originally they weren’t quite ‘shut’ enough.  I know.  The book is for 1-3 year olds.

So, from the ridiculous... back to the sublime.

From 'Charlotte's Web' written by E B White (1952)

Wednesday 7 November 2012


On every trip I make to London something small usually happens to me which sticks in my mind, always to do with a stranger. 

The time before last I was just checking my phone at a street corner and an old man made a beeline for me - uh oh - and then started to sing.  Directly to me.   I really didn’t know where to look.  He was serenading, Everyone is beautiful… in their own way which I wasn’t sure whether or not to take as a compliment, but he looked a little manic so I just said, “Thank you!” (?!) and then hurried off, my pace quickening as I turned my back on him.  His vocals continued in my direction and I found myself diving into the nearest shop - it could have been a funeral parlour for all I cared at that moment, as long as it got me out of his range.

Last week my brief moment of connection with a stranger was with a young guy who was homeless.  It's something I always find difficult to witness.  It’s not that I’m unfamiliar with walking past human-shaped mounds under blankets in shop doorways or studiously avoiding eye contact with swaying, swarthy street men whose hopelessness is hard to contemplate; sadly it’s something you expect when you visit any large town or city, isn’t it?  This boy, though – he was like someone I might have known.  He reminded me of the young lads I used to work with in an office several years ago.  Like the sort of fresh-faced trainee with whom I’d have shared some banter, or had a chat with at the coffee machine about the previous night’s episode of a sitcom.  Only... his face was no longer that fresh.  But I could tell he was intelligent and personable, and I wondered how come his life had got so messed up.   I realise that when he first approached me I must have automatically given him that defensive “PLEASE DON'T BOTHER ME!” expression - I just know it would have been all over my face, a kind of reflex, and I can’t imagine how it must feel to be on the receiving end of that type of response over and over again.  Anyway he asked me so politely if I had some change to help him pay for his hostel that night, but I knew I only had a handful of coppers in my purse.  “Oh I’ve only got a few coins – I’m a bit embarrassed!” I said as I scooped up the two-pence pieces.  You’re embarrassed?” he replied, gesturing towards himself as if to say, “Hello-oh!  Don't you realise who you're saying that to?!”  My tactlessness hit me as he went on, not harshly at all, but very genuinely, “How embarrassed do you think I feel, asking you?”  Stupidly, I just hadn’t thought of it like that.  I apologised (and explained that I’d just wanted to give him a more useful amount), and then we chatted briefly and said friendly goodbyes.  On the train back I found it hard to get him out of my mind, more so than I ever have in that kind of situation before.  There was something about him.   I was going home to a safe, warm house on this chilly October night, and he was going… where?   And I’m obviously still thinking about him now, aren't I?  I find it hard to get my head around how relentlessly tough life must be if you're homeless, especially in an English winter.

Mind you, I once knew of a man who actively chose to live outside in all weathers for most of his adult life.  He had a little camp in a copse by the side of a main road in a village not far from my home town.  He'd amassed all sorts of random objects that he’d presumably either found or been given  – toys, bags, old clothes, etc. and decorated his makeshift home amongst the trees with them, the more brightly coloured and shiny the better.  It was a cheery sight - and site.  Somehow he managed to keep himself, and his little dog whom he pushed around in an old pram, alive and well for years.  His hair never went grey and his skin looked like bark.  He walked for miles every day, complete with dog and pram, and always waved to each car that passed him (including mine – it was a pleasure to wave back).  Every Christmas Day he would accept the invitation from one of the locals to join them for a full, festive dinner.  This was the one and only day of the year on which he’d take a bath too, thanks to the loan of their bathroom and some sweet-smelling unguentsWell into his seventies when he died, he was liked and respected by all who lived in the area, his long life out in the cold no doubt made a little warmer by the kindness of strangers.

Sunday 4 November 2012

Today's fish and chip paper

I can finally stop checking The Sun every day, just in time to prevent any permanent facial damage being caused by my repeated gawping at what passes for news…  Phew, what a torture!

This is the (utterly pointless) feature I mentioned recently to which I 'could' have contributed. (Told you it would be a let-down!)   

Just in case you’re vaguely curious, it was thanks to this original post which had been spotted by a journalist.  She sent an invitation to take part in a photoshoot with other women, where we'd have to wear an item of clothing that we had once bought and then really regretted wearing, and provide a background story. I had no idea how many people were participating, or how much detail they'd want, so it was quite amusing... However, my closet is so small I don’t have room to keep those kind of sartorial skeletons and, thankfully, they’ve all gone, long ago.  (And as I don’t regret my leopard-print coat or my newly bought creepers, they don’t count…)

I made the right decision not to do it, didn’t I?   Plus there are so many much more interesting things to read about, after all.  I mean….‘Kim Kardashian defies gravity in low-cut top and no bra in Miami’….   Fascinating.

A clichéd college project take on tabloid papers
 from (aarghh) 30 years ago - nothing much changes...

Wednesday 31 October 2012

Dead of night

So, it’s the 31st October and the temporary signs are up in the local Co-op: ‘No eggs / flour sold to anyone under 16’ while at the same time the shelves are crammed full of tacky over-priced crap which is only valid for use one night a year.  What’s that all about?  Back in my day (oh, here we go…) we just draped old sheets with cut-out eyeholes over ourselves then ate baked potatoes before a game of Murder In The Dark (which I never really understood how to play, to be honest).  We didn’t dare venture outside (for fear of too many real ghosts).  

Today I will venture outside, in fact I am daring to venture down to London, to meet a stranger in a strange place (all in the name of work, you understand) just as dusk falls on the city and its streets no doubt fill with people rushing home from their jobs, perhaps to change into Hallowe’en costumes bought from Tesco.  I just hope I don’t encounter too many of them on the train home.  There’s something special about central London after dark for me, though: ghosts of a different kind.  I still find the city exciting, it's full of nuanced memories and part of me will wish I could extend my visit to have a few drinks and go to see a band maybe, before flopping down on an unfamiliar bed in a high-up hotel room, a parallel world away from my quiet rural existence - but I can't!

Anyway, as a mere nod to the date and hopefully as an antedote to all the crass commercialism surrounding it, here’s a little snippet from one of my favourite old films, Dead Of Night (1945).  If you've never seen it, it's a classy portmanteau style horror comprising five disparate stories, all linked through being experiences or tales told at a gathering by each guest in turn.   And there's a twist ending, of course.  It’s exquisitely English, exquisitely 1940s and exquisitely chilling in the most perfect, understated way. 

Don't be a dummy

Saturday 27 October 2012

Apple for the teacher

My mum liked to regale my sister and me with a tale of how she got into trouble at school once for a piece she wrote for her English class.  Given free rein to come up with something as imaginative as possible, she composed a gory and explicit horror story about a girl who accidentally swallowed an apple pip.  The pip germinated in the girl’s stomach and slowly grew into a tree inside her, eventually killing its host in a particularly agonising and gruesome way (I think it was when the branches started to poke their way out of her ears and eye sockets that it got especially grisly).   My mum told us that she took great relish in describing this as vividly  as possible – as requested in the teacher’s brief - and it sounds like something Roald Dahl could have come up with for ‘Tales Of The Unexpected’.  However, the teacher didn’t see it in such a positive light and gave her 14-year old pupil a severe reprimand, as well as having words with my grandparents expressing concern about the “inappropriately” unpleasant subject matter.  It was as if she had committed some cardinal sin.

We used to laugh at this reminiscence, my mum’s eyes gleaming mischievously as she explained the reaction her teenage story had provoked, which was clearly still very memorable to her.  Luckily it didn’t put her off writing, and as an adult she used her imagination and gift for words whenever she could; perhaps she would have blogged if this medium had been around while she was alive.  But her experience set me thinking about the effects that teachers can have – how some can absolutely bring out the best in you and be an inspiration, but others can really set you back.

My first English teacher at secondary school fell into the latter category.  I’d come out of primary school with a real love of reading and creative writing, getting good marks and being eager to learn more.  So when I started nervously at the big school with its long corridors and scary timetables and even scarier teachers, I hoped I would at least be within my comfort zone when it came to English.

Unfortunately Miss B seemed to have it in for me from the start.  She wasn’t a likeable person, with a cold, hard air about her which accentuated her extremely unfeminine presence.  I can picture her now: steely grey cropped hair, shapeless red trousers and chunky knitted patterned cardigans, sitting on the edge of the desk with her legs apart (thank god for the red trousers), looking out at her class of 12-year-old girls.  She was unable to meet the eyes of any one of us, even less able to turn the corners of her mouth up into something remotely resembling a smile.

She was American, and seemed fixated on cowboy stories.  So when she taught us grammar, the examples she gave were always along the lines of, "The cowboy (subject) rode (verb) his brown (adjective) horse (object)".  Always.  Whenever I hear the word 'posse' (not often, I grant you) I see Miss B in her red trousers chalking stick-drawings of cowboys on the blackboard. She loved that word.

I tackled each English assignment with gusto but my efforts were frequently met with humiliation.  Maybe I deserved the low marks she gave me - or perhaps it was my lack of reference to cowboys - but there was never any guidance or positivity to go with them.    And it’s one thing to encourage a reserved child to speak in front of the class to help them overcome their shyness, quite another to pick on them time and time again and then draw attention to their discomfort.  I started to dread English lessons.  I kept trying to prove myself to Miss B but it felt as if I was battling against the odds; she was never going to like nor nurture me.  Looking back I just feel disdain for her.  I know teaching isn't an easy profession but... I wasn't a troublesome pupil.  She didn't need to make me feel like crap.

Thank god, then, that she left after my second year (possibly under a cloud) and the lovely, young, warm-hearted Miss McM took her place.  Under her empathetic and inspiring mentorship I regained some confidence; English became a subject to enjoy again and I looked forward to each opportunity to write.  It didn’t matter what about – ghost stories or politics or what we did at the weekend, but never cowboys - every composition was marked with care and included encouraging comments offering constructive advice.  Thank you, Miss McM. I have a feeling you would have loved my mum’s tale of the apple pip girl. 

Beware of the pips

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Tomorrow's fish and chip paper

A funny thing has just happened to me and all because of this blog.  It’s mad.  Thanks to a post I wrote last year, I’ve received an invitation to go to London and be photographed (aarghh!) for a feature in one of the national papers!   Whaaat???!!!  I told you it was mad – but it’s true!  And not only will they pay all expenses but they'll pay a nice little fee as well.  After checking it all out I know it's genuine; I should also add that it wouldn't just be me.

I won't go into detail here as the paper is yet to run it (I'll be looking out for it online when it does and may update this then – meanwhile, sorry to sound so mysterious!) but the thing is, it presented me with an unexpected moral dilemma.  What would you do?

Would you give up a few hours of your life to do something totally different from anything you’ve ever done before AND get paid for it?  (Especially if you’re skint?!)

Would you be willing to take part in a professional photoshoot for a very well-known publication?  Yep, a  'photoshoot'...! *

Sounds quite exciting so far, perhaps…?

…But would you do it for one of our major tabloid newspapers (I won’t say which one although you can find a clue in the name of this blog…) even though you absolutely hate what they’re about?

As it happens, I had to decline for a practical reason, but I still thought about it... and was wondering what the experience would be like... and I still am...and I have to confess that a little, devilish, secret exhibitionist part of me wishes in a way that I could embrace it, in spite of my shyness and my dislike of being photographed.  Simply because it’s just not the sort of thing that happens every day.  Oh and the money… let’s not forget the money.   So perhaps it was just as well that another factor made the decision for me and I didn’t have to wrestle with my conscience or my paradox any further. 

Whatever contempt I have for the newspaper in question, though, I have to admit, it was nice to be asked!

You just never know who might be reading your blog….
* Fully clothed, I hasten to add.

The update to this post can be found here

Sunday 21 October 2012

Blasts from a taped past

By way of a musical interlude, here are three songs that I've just revisited after looking at the one remaining cassette compilation I still have of some recordings from '77/'78.  Most of the tracks are from John Peel shows, and include two from the first Wire session (January '78).  I was so excited to hear this as they were booked to play at the local technical college that March and I wanted to familiarise myself before seeing them.  They were like nothing I'd ever heard before.  It was a great gig and then I was delighted to get 'Pink Flag' for my fifteenth birthday a few months later.

I think this selection gives a real flavour of Peel's broadcasting at the time - the only way I (and many others) would ever have heard most of these bands - and why it appealed so much to this wide-eyed teenager.

Also on the tape is a classic interview with Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious - added after the original broadcast but which I asked my parents to record for me because I was out that afternoon - and, bless 'em, they did.  In fact John came across so well that my mum wasn't averse to the idea of inviting him over for tea one day.  Unfortunately no sound bites from that here but in the meantime I hope you enjoy these little tasters of the time from Tetrack, Blunt Instrument and Wire.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

H**ny, p**ny ornithologist

Engraving by George Graves, early 1800s

Without wishing to go all Bill Oddie on you, I was really chuffed on Monday morning when I saw a jay in our small garden; it was the first time I’ve witnessed one of these large, beautiful, exotically colourful birds so close.  Its brief but eyecatching appearance here seemed timely as that evening I went to my first meeting at a bird conservation charity. It was just so good to be able to mention the jay’s presence there to a man I’d never met before but whom I knew would understand!  The conversation continued about garden visits from long-tailed tits and goldfinches and our eyes shone as we discussed our feathered friends.  This was not technical, competitive talk about spotting rare raptors or buying binoculars; instead just a keen mutual appreciation of the ordinary, daily company of our garden guests.  (Or, as I see it, it's really their garden and we just borrow it.)  They’re all around - house sparrows, bluetits, blackbirds - and I never tire of seeing them go about their daily business.  Sightings of red kites, buzzards and barn owls might bring special, rare pleasures - like that jay - but they don’t need to be big, bold and bright to make my heart flutter.  Every LBJ (‘little brown job’ in birdy speak) is as welcome a sight as anything more unusual, and I’ve learned so much just from observing them.  So whilst I’m definitely not a ‘twitcher’, I could perhaps consider myself to be an amateur ornithologist.  Although I must admit I can’t hear the word ‘ornithologist’ these days without being reminded of this Not The Nine O’Clock News team’s brilliant Two Ronnies parody...

Who else could have got away with the word 'dildo'
on early '80s prime time BBC TV?

Anyway, the meeting was about how volunteers can  promote the work and research of this organisation and I’ve offered to compose some articles, as a means of combining my enthusiasm for birdlife with a love of creative writing.  Nothing scientific or exclusive, just a way to share a personal passion which might hopefully end up doing some good too.  (And I might even mention tits and nuts.)

I’d better get scribing.

Sunday 14 October 2012

Oh, boy!

Ben had dark curly hair, big brown eyes and a cheeky smile which accentuated the dimples in his cheeks.   Even though we were only six he had something about him that made me feel excited.  I looked forward to seeing Ben at school every day -  so much so that it even helped me overcome my fear of Michael, the infamous class bully, who was best known for being good at kicking shins and flushing gloves down toilets.

One Spring morning Mrs Marychurch announced that she was going to take the class for a nature walk.  We had to line up by the door in pairs.  “Right now, children, join up: boy girl, boy girl…”   Some of the boys looked distinctly unsure about this while the girls giggled, but we soon fell, rather chaotically, into couples.  Somehow, magically, I ended up with Ben.  “Now hold hands with your partner, everyone, and don’t let go,” our kind, maternal teacher instructed.  Ohhh!  I clung tightly to Ben’s palm, which felt warm and nice, and I knew I wouldn’t be letting go in a hurry. 

Off we went on our walk, a Crocodile of six-year-olds, out of the school grounds with its flat-roofed 1960s classroom blocks, across the road and up to the top of the wide tree-lined path which led between a cricket field and a meadow of Friesian cattle.  There at the summit Mrs Marychurch pointed out an oak tree and some cow parsley.  Then she let us all run to the bottom with the breeze in our hair, our grey skirts and shorts flapping, and Ben and I raced down that hill, laughing, our hands still tightly clasped.  We kept on going, further and further down the path, exhilarated.  Of course we were on strict instructions to return the second Mrs Marychurch summoned us back.  “Oh I think she’s calling…” Ben said anxiously as we stopped to catch our breath, Mrs Marychurch now just small and slightly blurred some yards behind us.   “No she isn’t!” I insisted.  My companion seemed less certain and urged me to return with him but I was adamant.  So we turned our backs on her distant figure and carried on.  And thus, at the tender age of six, I got my favourite boy into trouble.  When it finally dawned on us that the rest of the class had all joined our teacher and we were the only ones who hadn’t, our sheepish return was met with a very stern telling-off.  “I told you she was calling,” whispered Ben crossly after we’d been shown up horribly in front of our classmates. I was as mortified as a lovestruck six-year-old could be, which is to say: very   In spite of trying to make it up to him with presents of Love Heart sweets (‘Be mine’ and ‘Will you’), that was the end of Ben and me.

A certain six-year-old's view of Mrs Marychurch and her class in 1970

There weren’t many other boys in my class to fall for over the following years.  I became good mates with Ian, Iain, and the two Andrews, but that was because they weren’t much like the other boys and I wasn’t much like the other girls.  We all liked nerdy activities like drawing, reading, collecting little rubber animals and writing stories, so playing together was comfortable and easy.  I just didn’t ‘fancy’ any of them.  Mind you I didn’t fancy Christopher either but that didn’t stop me inadvertently leading him on one time.  As we spilled out of the classroom for lunch that day the not-very-bright boy with the thick-lensed spectacles and rodent teeth started touting for girls to play Kiss Chase with him.  All his favourite girls - Alison, Claire, Nicola and Ruth - were quick to say “No”.  I, stupidly (oh, so stupidly), felt sorry for him.  I don’t know why but I came out with a classic line which I was soon to regret.  “No I don’t want to play, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like you,” I said, as flirtatiously as a nine-year-old could, even though I didn’t like him.  Oh, why did I say that, why?

I went hungry that lunchtime.  Instead of eating I spent the entire hour being pursued by Christopher.  He chased me up and down the long playing field, in out and out of the line of willow trees, round and round the Pudding Stone and across the hopskotch squares on the tarmac.  I tried to hide under the coats hanging up in the cloakroom and behind the floor-length orange curtains in the Assembly Hall.  We played cat and mouse until I got that sandpapery feeling across my chest and a throbbing in my forehead, but my determined hunter wouldn’t give up.  I longed for lunchtime to be over. Eventually the boy cornered me by the rabbit hutch, pressed me up against it and pushed his mouth hard against mine.  I struggled, but to no avail - it was only the ringing of the school bell at the end of the lunch break that finally freed me from his clumsy grasp and his horrible wet lips.  If only it had rung sooner.  Flopsy the rabbit was not the only one to feel traumatised that day.

But I recovered from that and in the last year of Juniors my dream boy was Nicky.  All the girls loved Nicky and he was way out of my league.  He had lovely blue eyes and was supremely self-assured.  I didn’t expect my admiration to be reciprocated because I was neither pretty nor confident, and I'd never really spoken to him before, but when I was seated next to him in the final term I realised that I could sometimes make him laugh.  I started to learn that a bit of wordplay or a corny gag could go a long way.  Nicky actually appeared to like it when I tried out the “Do you know Theresa Green?”  joke on him ("what? - you don't know trees are green?") and it seemed I went up a few points in his estimation.  Enough points in fact to warrant me a place in his ‘Top 5 Girls’ list which he updated weekly.  I made it to Number 3 and, seeing as Number 1 was Big Karen who was already wearing - and noticeably filling - a bra, that was quite an accolade. (Like several of the other girls in my year I just had two small bumps under my blouse which embarrassed me greatly.) I don’t remember who Number 2 was.

I left primary school rejected by Ben and unwillingly kissed by Christopher but with a small, sweet confidence boost from appearing on heart-throb Nicky’s special list. It’s a shame really that I was then sent to an all girls’ school and boys became something of an alien species.  Or maybe it was just as well.

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Jeepers creepers

There’s been a bit of a rock’n’roll theme in some of my fellow bloggers’ posts lately and it chimed in neatly with a strange and sudden yearning to get myself a pair of… you may think I’m mad, but… a pair of creepers. 

Well, I was looking through one of my sketchbooks from the early 1980s and found these small drawings…

…and, I dunno why, but I got hooked on the idea of slipping my feet into a pair of crepe-soled shoes, at least before I get too much older.  Can a woman of my age get away with wearing such things, with narrow jeans and a leopard print coat?  Do I care?  Hmm...I don’t want to end up like one of those old ladies who should have given up the lipstick and leather decades beforehand  - there are always one or two in every town, aren’t there? -  and who turn heads for completely the wrong reasons.  But I think  - ok: hope - there’s still time for me to make a few last stands against middle-aged convention.

At least I can buy them off the internet now too.  Back at the time of my little drawings, purchasing such exotic items meant taking the train down to London and heading for the rather cramped and gloomy branch of Shelly’s at Foubert’s Place in Carnaby Street.  Inside, boxes of weird and wonderful footwear for all of us who wanted to make fashion statements with our tootsies were stacked precariously and in no obviously logical arrangement from floor to ceiling.   In Shelly’s I indulged my love of some black patent lace-up boots with impossibly pointy toes, not the sort of thing you could buy in a small town Stead & Simpsons at the time.  It was my boyfriend who bought the creepers then – purple ones, red ones, some with pointy toes too - to be accessorised with dayglo green or pink socks, which we could also only find in the city shops (far too outrageous for the provinces).

You didn’t have to be into traditional rock’n’roll to wear creepers.  Early ‘80s fashion seemed, to me anyway, to be mostly about hybrids.  It was natural to mix and match various influences: a bit of punk here, a bit of glam there, a mélange of several different decades' styles, combining kitsch with chic and old with new.  I had no qualms about wearing a yellow polka dot 1950s dress under a leather motorbike jacket, along with black woolly tights and monkey boots, for instance. And, when I think about it, there were a lot of hybrid inspirations in the musical backdrop of the time too.   Rockabilly earned new credibility with bands like the Polecats and the Stray Cats...

(Who couldn't fall in love with Brian Setzer's hair too?)
Anyway, the creepers are on order and I just hope I’ll like them when they get here.  At least if I find I'm not brave enough to wear them out I can Stray Cat Strut round the living room in them and pretend I'm seventeen again...

Thursday 4 October 2012

Natural beauties

I'm all outta words for the moment so in the meantime here are a couple more pictures which seemed quite striking, taken in the back garden...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...