Monday 26 March 2012

Dress, shirt

I couldn’t help feeling an unlikely sense of excitement when my sister told me she'd volunteered to catalogue Victorian underwear at her local museum.   I had this vision of mountains of white lace, linen, ribbons, strange things made out of whalebone and lots of stockings.  Words I rarely use tumbled into my mind: bustle… petticoat… crinoline… bloomers…  I can’t wait to find out exactly what kind of drawers she’s going to be rummaging through – probably some made from calico.

I think it’s pretty amazing that any undergarments from a hundred years or so ago would survive at all.  Why were they ever kept?  I don’t know about you but, whilst I’ve been tempted to hang onto the occasional special garment, or at least pass it on to a new owner rather than throw it away, I’d never have considered my undies.  

I had one of those muslin ‘Destroy’ shirts which I bought from Seditionaries on the Kings Road in 1979, sold to me by (ooh!) Vivienne Westwood herself.  I loved it dearly, I loved its soft feel and the little metal spring clips on the sleeves.  At 16, I had no qualms about wearing a logo which combined a swastika with an upside-down crucifixion and our decapitated Queen on a postage stamp (I know…).  I have to remind myself of how all this imagery seemed in the context of that time.  It meant nothing more then than just being into punk; it was where all that shock-symbolism began and ended.  That shirt was one item of clothing I hung onto for many years; I’d stopped wearing it long ago of course but I was reluctant to throw it out. It had some kind of meaning, it was from a very specific era.  Eventually, about six years ago, I sold it for £100 to a collector who didn’t even mind the paint stains on the sleeves (I’d worn it to college); I think he was going to frame it and hang it on his wall.  The money was more essential to me than having it as a piece of memorabilia by then.  Maybe in another hundred years it will end up in a museum somewhere.

There are a couple of items of clothing I’ve continued to keep, however, even though they weren’t mine originally, but just ended up in my possession. 

One is this fantastic Sixties shirt which I feel extremely privileged to have been kindly given over twenty years ago. 

It’s made by ‘Donis of Carnaby Street’ and it’s in lovely condition, with the most amazing collar and cuffs. 

I just love the idea that it would have been bought and worn by some trendy young thing, probably at the height of psychedelia… Maybe he wore it to the Speakeasy where he danced the night away to the Yardbirds..?   My reasons for keeping it are perhaps quite romantic, really.

Then there’s this now musty and literally moth-eaten dress.

The dress as it  looks on me today.  Amazingly, it still fits -
it’s just a shame that it smells like a stagnant pond…

It was my mum’s; she bought it in the late 1940s.  It's made of layered lace and has velvet straps and neckline.  Originally it had whalebone in it too but she took that out some years later and let my sister and I play dressing-up games in it, adorning ourselves in plastic beads and clip-on earrings from Christmas crackers, whilst hobbling about in mum’s five-sizes-too-big-shoes with fancy old curtains draped over our shoulders.

There was a spell during the Eighties when I discovered it was a good enough dress to actually go out in and it ended up as an essential item in my (mostly black, mostly second-hand) wardrobe.  Apart from being genuinely vintage it had all the credentials for that indie/post-punk/goth look.  Black.  Velvet.  Lace.  And it was nicely tatty and torn by then too.  It went perfectly with fishnet tights and crimped hair.  Now, nearly seventy years old, it’s stored away in a box.  I don’t know quite what to do with it but I just can’t bring myself to part with it. 

These are two items of clothing which aren’t going to be discarded anytime soon - unlike my old undies, which no museum in the future will be cataloguing, I can assure you.  And I’ll resist saying any more about volunteers rummaging through them, too.

Monday 19 March 2012

Delapidation to destruction

I can’t help thinking there’s something rather beautiful about this.

Neglected, abandoned and no longer of use, this is the old shed that just about stands at the end of the garden.  Until yesterday one side was completely draped in thick ivy; you can see where I’ve pulled most of it away, leaving just a few remains of its tenacious twisting branches clinging on with hundreds of feathery feet, like centipedes.

The ivy found its way inside too…

Growing without sunlight has blocked its colour, now it just blends into the wood of the shed as if it’s always been a part of it, as if it sprouted from the walls.

The end is nigh, though, and in the next few weeks this old outbuilding is coming down.

I’m looking forward to breaking it up.  I’ve already started pulling away the roof and clearing the ground around it, finding old bricks and dirty pots hidden under the ivy roots, where I rescued a few snails…

…and I’ve become a little addicted to this process of deconstruction. There is something about the mindlessness of it.   I usually spend my days trying to be creative, forming things from scratch and using my brain to work out how.  When I’m outside in the fresh air, pulling, smashing and battering, nothing matters.  The order doesn’t matter, nor does the mess.   Filth, cracks, rips and holes don’t matter.  And neither does my grey matter…!   It’s so invigorating – and yet therapeutic.  I recommend it.

I think there must be something very basic and instinctive which makes physical activity outdoors feel so good, especially if you’re not used to it.  Perhaps it tunes into a sort of ancestral memory from caveman days.  If I was male, I might think it’s also the testosterone….but, as a female, well…?!  Hmm, I’ll let you know if I start growing hairs on my chest by the time the old shed is completely destroyed.  Delapidation to depilation in just a few short easy steps.

Tuesday 13 March 2012

Record shop memoirs, part two

As anyone who’s ever worked in a shop probably appreciates, regular customers tend to earn themselves handy nicknames.  Not that they have a clue what these monikers are themselves.  These useful identification and reference labels are an important secret, closely guarded by the knowing assistants on the other side of the counter.  So I was one of those knowing assistants in an independent record shop from '83 to '87; it was a long time ago and sadly I can’t recall many names now, but... let me think… well, there was Worzel Gummidge… and Bog Monster… and Tiger Man…and the Fraggles… and plenty of other less imaginative tags too - and we knew who we were talking about, even if they didn’t.

Other regulars, however, actively introduced themselves in the way they wanted to be addressed. For example, there was ‘Neil the Mod’.  The ‘Mod’ part of his name was emphatic.  I don’t think we ever knew his surname –  I mean, when we reserved, say, the latest 2 Tone release for him, it was just ‘Neil the Mod’ that we wrote as his name on the order slip.  As instructed by him.  He was never seen wearing anything but full (‘80s) mod regalia, such as his parka (with target), pork pie hat, sta-prest trousers, etc.   

I remember the first few times he came in - he must only have been in his early teens and he was just a little too exuberant.  If there had been such a thing as ‘The X Factor’ or ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ back then, you might have thought you’d accidentally walked into an audition on any occasion that he was in the shop.  Before you had time to say ‘Green Onions’ he’d be singing to you.  Mind you, that was nothing new when you worked in a record store.  People frequently came in and said, “There’s this single I want, and I can’t remember what it’s called, or who it’s by, but it goes a bit like this…” and then self-consciously proceeded to ‘da-de-da’ a few bars with maybe the odd memorable word thrown in (something really useful like 'love' or 'baby'- not much narrowing down to be done there, then).  But these were quietly sung by the enquirer at close range, and only after checking that the shop was devoid of other customers and possible eavesdroppers.  Conversely, Neil the Mod actually wanted everybody to hear him.  He sang at full volume and even threw in a few dance moves too.  It was as if he had no embarrassment filter; the more attention he could get, the better.  At first this was a little tiresome but, I suppose, at least we knew we were in for a bit of free entertainment when he was around. 

However, over time he calmed down as he grew from a rather over-enthusiastic teenager into a more focused young man.  It was then I realised that his career as some kind of performer had been inevitable; he started to get entertainment work at holiday camps and local events, and in a way he’d been practising his art on us in the shop.  Maybe it was really quite a privilege to witness his early forays into singing publicly.  A few years after I’d left my job there I bumped into him (and his guitar) in town where he’d apparently been doing a bit of busking between seasonal leisure resort bookings.  He'd ditched the full Quadrophenia gear in favour of a more subdued retro look.  We had a bit of a chat before he said “So what song is it gonna be – fancy a bit of Beatles?”  Then, right in the middle of a busy retail centre full of Saturday shoppers he launched boldly, and perfectly, into ‘Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby’, the Carl Perkins number, as performed by the early Fabs.  If you’re familiar with this you’ll know there is no handy guitar intro, no time to take breath nor get in tune with a few chords at the start….  It's just the vocal that kicks it off.

Then in came his vibrant, strumming guitar.  His performance was strong, captivating, pitch-perfect and LOUD.  The shoppers all stopped to watch, their worn-down faces lighting up with admiring smiles, feet tapping in time.   You just couldn’t fail to be both impressed and uplifted.

(Pork pie) hats off to Neil the Mod.  I hope he's doing well, wherever he is now, and I hope he's still singing.

(Btw I dread to think what nicknames have been thought up for me over the years by smirking shop assistants.  Best not to go there…)

Friday 9 March 2012

The Sixties soundtrack of our lives, part one

Don’t you sometimes just hear a song and think “this should be in a film”?  I mean the kind of song that brings to mind images of Susannah York - or Michael York for that matter – in the type of movie that is probably set in London or another cosmopolitan city.  Both song and film have to be from the Sixties, ideally.  This is a world of coffee bars with Formica table tops or bowler-hatted men lusting after their dolly-bird secretaries.  Perhaps the scene shows two young lovers walking down a quiet street in early evening, pigeons fly upward as the couple approach them, then our hero and heroine turn a corner and we view them from the back as they disappear into the distance and the closing credits take their place on the screen.  Or maybe the kohl-eyed female lead is leaning out of a window, chintzy net curtains and blonde hair blowing in the breeze, as the camera pans out to the view she sees, of a city full of bustling crowds and red double-decker buses… introducing us to a world we’re going to be immersed in for the next ninety minutes.

Songs which work really well for me which are already in films include the wonderful ‘To Sir With Love’ which just succeeds on so many levels.  Who could fail to be moved by it in some way?  Or how about the superb intro to ‘Up The Junction’…

But other songs are just random singles, lone B-sides or album tracks perhaps, which never did get included in a film score, and I reckon they should have been.  Cue this song from 1968, the B-side to ‘Race With The Devil’ by The Gun.  It’s somewhere in the middle of my imaginary film, and I see a beautiful man, maybe he’s driving along a coastal road in an open-top car, the early morning sun refracted artily on the chrome trim of his MGB.  I don’t know what his story is yet, but it’s sure to be full of surprises, secrets and probably a fair few groovy club scenes.

More make-believe soundtrack songs to follow in future instalments…

Thursday 1 March 2012

Unaccustomed as I was...

Those who read my post of a few weeks ago may remember the trepidation I expressed at the prospect of giving a talk/presentation to a group of strangers.  You kindly offered all manner of advice and encouragement and I considered every word.  Included were recommendations to rely on whisky, cocaine, a six-pack of lager and bottle and a half of wine and yes, I have to say they were all….

….well, left untouched at home, of course.  (Aargh, what am I saying?!  We don’t have any lager at home…)

As for presenting it through the medium of modern dance, I knew my wild gesticulations would naturally interpret in a most balletic fashion the deeper issues that I wanted to cover.

Seriously, though, I really did appreciate all the kind motivational tips that came my way - and I know they helped me through Tuesday evening when the big moment arrived.  So thank you.  It’s a bit of a blur now, but afterwards I was on such a high I reckon the buzz pumping round my system would have had a significant street value.

It all went according to plan and I even got a few laughs.  At least I think they were chuckling politely at my attempt at light humour and hopefully not at spaghetti hoop stains down my dress or something unsavoury-looking stuck between my front teeth…

Phew.  I’m glad it’s over.  But it was fun, and amazingly enough - I never thought I’d say this - I would do it again!

Image copyright C / Sun Dried Sparrows
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...