Monday 27 February 2012

One year of miscellany

Ooh!  Today Sun Dried Sparrows is a year old.  I had no idea quite what I was doing when I tentatively chose my template, figured out something to do with widgets, typed my first post and, with my heart in my mouth, clicked on ‘publish’.  It felt a bit odd writing to nobody in particular (although not always!) and at the same time knowing that anybody in the world could read my gabbling prose.  I didn’t really expect to keep it going for any length of time, or that anyone else would even have a look.  So here’s a BIG thanks to all those who have helped me to keep it going by having a look - and whose comments are always really appreciated… x

In keeping with the randomness of subjects that turn up on these pages, here’s a little selection of unconnected and totally miscellaneous bits and bobs as some kind of birthday jamboree bag!

A postcard picked up in a charity shop - can you tell what it is yet?

If you're going to wear a badge...

One of last year's babies

A favourite raincoat

A card received last year for my real birthday.
(From Modern Toss / Mr Tourette Master Signwriter)
...I leave it to you to translate*

And one great song.

* Go on then -  it says, "I still want fucking paying".

Saturday 18 February 2012

Give 'em enough rope

I was lucky enough to grow up in a house with a garden which had some trees.  Nowadays I’d like them for the associated wildlife and a natural comfort that they might bring – I’d love to have them watching over me like gentle guardians, keeping the secrets of past decades safe in their silent, living presence.  But when I was a nipper there was really only one good reason why I liked our trees.  Well, one tree in particular.  And that was for the ‘Tarzan Rope’ suspended from it.

I don’t know whose idea it was to hang this rope from the huge central tree – mine was a family with no boys  – but my dad naturally got the job of climbing a ladder and fixing a chain to a high bough, from which he then attached a very strong piece of broad, long cord. This hung down at double thickness and was then knotted in several places.  The specially adapted piece of kit to go with it was a section of a broom-handle, just over a foot long I reckon.  All you had to do was position this wooden bar into one of the gaps between two knots (choosing the most convenient one according to your height), place your hands either side, lift your feet from the ground and….off you went…. Hours of free entertainment would ensue.

There were several different manoevres that my big sister and I invented and soon became experts at.  One was to walk back as far as you could in a straight line and simply swing back and forth.   A better one was to start off close to the tree trunk, run a short distance outwardly from it and then lift your feet off the ground so that you could swing around the tree in an almost complete circle, touching down again at the opposite side of the trunk.  A slightly dodgy and less popular variation was to position the bar so low down that you could hook your legs over it, effectively sitting on it and hanging on to just the rope.  This wasn’t much fun though because you couldn’t really go anywhere on it.  You’d just hang there in a highly uncomfortable sitting position trying not to look bored and ungainly. Not to mention the risk of getting rope-burn in a most undesirable place.

The best, and most impressive move of all was ‘twizzling’.  This was when you did the circular swing around the tree but incorporated some mini 360 degree spins, or ‘twizzles’ as we called them, along the way.  Thinking about it now this must have taken both bravery (stupidity?) and skill and I can’t imagine for a second that I would have enough of either to do that now – but in the relative safety of my own garden I was lithe and fearless and became a bit of a twizzling champion, sometimes managing to spin repeatedly from start to finish.  It’s funny how I didn’t seem to get so dizzy in those days.  Now I only have to turn around too quickly in the shower and I need a sit-down and a cuppa to help me regain my balance.

As this was chiefly a summer activity I would usually be found throwing myself around this solid old tree dressed in my pink shorts and yellow T-shirt, barefoot and bare-headed.  No crash helmets, no safety harness, no knee-pads.  The big old branch so many feet above sometimes creaked ominously, and I frequently got my planned trajectories hopelessly wrong, ending up slammed against the trunk with nothing to protect me from the blow except my epidermis.  I hit my head countless times, got blisters on my palms and grazes on my knees, but still I loved that Tarzan Rope. 

Unfortunately it was responsible for more casualties than just my bruises and temporary braining.  I was the lucky one.  My sister fell off and fractured a toe.  My cousin misjudged things too, came off the rope and landed on a stone which embedded itself very painfully in her gluteus maximus region.  And a neighbour’s awkward tumble resulted in a huge gash to her arm.  I remember my mum running out to give her a small glass of brandy.  I’ve no idea what her parents must have thought when she was delivered home to them, oozing blood and smelling lightly of alcohol - but this was the Seventies after all.  It’s funny how I can still remember the way the trail of blood drips led from the tree, down our garden path, all around the house and to her front door over the road.  Those dark claret stains stayed on the pavings for several weeks that hot, dry summer.  I think her scar lasted some time longer. 

Eventually we just grew too big for such shenanigans and my parents may have started fretting about our unfortunate, injured friends and family, even though I don’t remember them ever expressing anything outwardly other than genuine sympathy to the victims.  The Tarzan Rope was left to slowly rot away and the little girl who used to swing on it like a deranged whirling dervish learned that there were even better things to spin: little black slabs of vinyl that twizzled at 45rpm.

I'm sure you get the tenuous connections...

Monday 13 February 2012

It's the Peel thing

There is a brief moment in my musical-tastes-timeline which deserves a special mention, perhaps particularly because it was so short-lived.  It was the very early eighties and a whole new crop of UK bands had released songs that just didn’t fit neatly into an existing genre.  Even with hindsight I can’t think of a perfect name for it – it wasn’t punk, nor goth, nor rock, nor pop.  Being generally referred to as ‘Post-punk’ is ok, but sounds a bit too broad.  And  I suppose ‘Indie’ would be an understandable tag,  but that rather blandly convenient term brings to mind a slightly later upsurge of bands.  So I’ll share with you a name which sums up my listening habits of the time:  Peel bands’.  It was John Peel who brought these sounds into my bedroom through his late night radio show and for that reason they’ll always be inextricably linked.

Perhaps one of the first things to draw my attention to these Peel bands was their weird and wonderful names.  They gave no indication as to how they might sound, so when John announced at the beginning of his show, “Tonight we have a session from Crispy Ambulance and records by Ski Patrol and A Certain Ratio..." my curiosity was already stirred.

At the start of that decade I was an art student, feeling happily outside of the norm, with not too many cares in the world, dressing in clothes from charity shops and growing out my once-spiked hair to back-comb it instead.  I bought my singles from places like Small Wonder, who, as well as being a label for acts like Patrik Fitzgerald (and releasing the first Cure single), had a record shop in Walthamstow.  I never went there but it operated a great little mail order service.  You could phone up and speak to founder Pete Stennet  himself to place your order and send your stamped addressed envelope off for the latest list.  It’s funny how little random snippets linger in my memory for no apparent reason; I recall sitting on our brown-carpeted stairs with the curly cord of the big-dialled cream telephone stretching round the doorway from the kitchen when I rang up excitedly to reserve an obscure EP by the Tunes.  A Saturday lunchtime I think.  Rhubarb crumble in the oven.

Before selfies were selfies

I may sound like an old fart but really I’m quite glad I’m of a certain vintage when I think back to those days. I get such a warm feeling.  My world was so small in so many ways, my life’s limits bound by the cost of a train ticket or bus fare, late night curfews set by parents and only three TV channels, all of which turned into mute, black screens by bedtime.  But maybe all that just made me appreciate even more the exotic pleasures to be had from listening to the one and only John Peel. 

Here for your exotic listening pleasure too, I bring you a small, random selection:

Wah! Heat: Seven Minutes To Midnight

(links may have expired...)

Thursday 9 February 2012

British Design 1948 - 2012

My eye was caught recently by news of this exhibition which celebrates over sixty years of classic British design.  The show will feature 300 exhibits, including furniture, ceramics, sculpture, photography, fashion and more  – look out for such classics as Jamie Reid’s ‘God Save The Queen’poster, and art from David Hockney and Henry Moore. A trip to the V&A always strikes me as good value and worth the effort of taking the train down to London, especially if I can combine it with doing something else.  So here’s an early heads-up, if you’re in the area some time this Summer. 

British Design 1948 - 2012 at the V&A
(Runs from 31st March to 12th August)

And this cries out for a little bit of British sixties pop...

Monday 6 February 2012

Under the bed

I reach out in the darkness, my fingers groping for the glass of water, my heart beating fast.  Something too terrible to contemplate is waiting for me.  It’s lurking there, hidden all day long but anticipating this moment - the moment when I drop my guard.  Then its sharp claws and vile, venomous fangs will, in one swift move, grab me and drag me down.  Down into its filthy lair where it can devour me in a manner so horrific that even my own wild imagination is too limited to picture it in detail.

Unfortunately, though, my imagination is not limited enough when it comes to the idea of this dreadful attack.  It is utterly ridiculous.  I KNOW there is no monster under the bed!  So why is it that when I have to reach my arm out from under the duvet of supreme safety (it’s amazing how protective some hypo-allergenic foam inside a cotton cover can be) I still get this irrational fear? 

During daylight hours the monster is dormant and invisible.  His lair is still pretty filthy, I must confess; the boxes with contents that have long been forgotten and the stray books and odd socks that have ended up under the bed are covered in a film of dust, fluff (always blue, for some reason) and hair...   Now and then a predatory vacuum cleaner may venture there to suck up these morsels and fill its belly with such detritus.  In spite of the rude interruption of a probing hoover head and roaring motor, the monster remains unseen and undisturbed.  But I know it’s there, as soon as darkness falls, waiting for one false move – the moment when I reach my arm across the threshold or when my foot inadvertently stretches out from under the covers…

Of course I’m exaggerating it, but it’s funny how this unfounded childhood fear still lingers somewhere in the back of my rational adult mind.  Where does this idea come from?  It’s such a common and quite specific anxiety.  There’s a theory that it’s linked to a primordial fear of predators.  Our early predecessors were obviously more vulnerable to fatal animal attacks in the dark and children were the easiest prey.  So the combination of being distanced from parents/protective adults and, especially, being separated from them at night, could perhaps be the reason this fear seems to emerge so instinctively at a certain stage in our development.   Maybe that instinct, so laughable when I think about it from the relative safety of my grown-up mind under the false sun of an electric light, is simply reawakened when I curl up, childlike and blinded by darkness, in my bed.  The world is a different place then: a world of half-asleep random thoughts, a world of weird dreams and a strange, subconscious insanity. 

There are far more worrying things that lurk between the mattress and the floor; old gas bills that should have been thrown out ages ago, embarrassing teenage photos and several years’ worth of bank statements are the most likely cause of any true concern.  However, I feel I really should just say that if you never hear from me again, you’ll know that the monster under the bed took a dislike to having its existence disputed.  I never should have reached out for that glass of water after lights out. 

Image copyright C / Sun Dried Sparrows
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