Thursday 31 May 2012


Image copyright: C / Sun Dried Sparrows

In the early ’70s my parents occasionally went out on a Friday or Saturday night, perhaps to eat cheese fondue with friends.  Mum would dress in a kaftan-style maxi dress and dad would wear a wide and garish purple tie that she’d chosen for him, though I know he wished he could stay at home and fiddle with his radiogram in his socks and sandals instead.  My big sister would go to the local Granada cinema with her boyfriend to try and sneak in to see the latest X-rated film, so there was nobody home to look after me - but there was a women’s teacher training college in town and my parents hired babysitters from there. 

My memories of those babysitters was that they were, unfortunately, mostly rather sour-faced girls who brought their non-communicative boyfriends along and watched TV all night in the hope that I wouldn’t interrupt their covert groping with requests for Ribena or stories or any kind of attention at all, really.  With the exception of one: a warm and smiley young woman who found that we had an area of common interest, then promptly indulged it for the whole evening and inspired me so much I just can’t forget her. 

I think it all started when she found my ‘Ant and Bee’ library books.  The conversation turned to the subject of little creatures, not just ants and bees, but also millipedes, woodlice and moths, etc.  It was nearly time for bed but she helped me into my dressing-gown and black plimsolls and, just before dusk, took me outside and up to the top of the long, high back garden, where the compost pile was.  Gently she poked and sifted through the rotting vegetable peelings and garden cuttings with a stick, whilst I crouched attentively at her side, and uncovered creepy crawlies and slimy things of all descriptions, telling me enthusiastically a little bit about each one.  I was mesmerised.  I had no idea that in this mound of dead things there was so much life.

An interest in wildlife of all shapes and sizes, but especially the miniature and winged versions, has stayed with me since and my chance to indulge it even more now comes at the end of each May with what has become something of a British TV institution, BBC2’s ‘Springwatch’.   I’m no fan of reality TV but this is something quite different – where ‘Four In A Bed’ relates to blackbird eggs in a nest, and ‘Come Dine With Me’ is footage of a mole feasting on worms stored in its underground larder.

Spring is perhaps the best time to observe so much of this other world.  My own environment is teeming with life at the moment – judging by the sounds they’re making the bluetits are about to fledge from the nest box, and I’m starting to feel like an excited mother myself, just waiting.  Yesterday I picked up a cockchafer (yes, really) which had flown into the house by mistake – a large, clumsy-looking flying beetle with feathery antennae that looks like a mint humbug with legs and is only seen at this time of year.  It played dead when I handled it, but soon returned to normality when placed on a hollyhock leaf, where it got itself into gear for take-off by flexing its flight muscles with a loud hum.

To add to the reality outside my window, ‘Springwatch’ offers amazing privileged views of barn owls, dragonflies, osprey, garden birds, snails and many other beasties and their babies with an intimacy we’d never usually witness. To top it all we now have the added value of Chris Packham presenting: somebody I started admiring a few years after my babysitting experience because he was a bit of a punk.  With his spiky peroxide hair and a leather bike jacket he was an appealing and relatable alternative to the more geeky wildlife programme presenters I’d grown up watching until then.  Now he hasn’t even changed all that much – plus he knows how to tap into those of us who share his musical/cultural background as well as love of nature.  This year phrases such as  ‘cygnet committee’ ‘prettiest star’, ‘be my wife’ and ‘starman’ (amongst many others) are being casually dropped into the commentary.  It’s a subtle game he plays with those of us who want to join in, so I’ll be listening out for more Bowie song titles (in previous series it was the Smiths and the Cure) as I learn about pine marten faeces and dormouse whiskers.  It doesn’t get much better.

Sunday 27 May 2012

Drive-In Sunday

I found these in a copy of the AA's 'Drive' magazine, Spring 1967...

Perhaps not surprisingly, there were a few chippy responses to these from women in the following edition.  (Other correspondence in the same issue included suggestions that cars should be fitted with rear-screen wipers and that push-button pedestrian crossings are a washout....)

Friday 18 May 2012

Fantasy punk band

I was never going to make it as a Slit or a Raincoat but that didn’t stop me fantasising about forming an all-girl punk band with my schoolfriends in ’78.  We couldn’t play any instruments (apart from the recorder on which I was at least adept at Greensleeves and the theme from The Wombles) and we couldn’t have afforded guitars and drums even if we’d intended to learn.  Hope had glimmered briefly the previous Autumn upon finding a discarded electric bass thrown onto the huge communal bonfire down the road before its potential incineration on Guy Fawkes’ Night but, seeing as it had been stripped of its pickups, strings and electrics etc., it wasn’t going to be easy to do much with.  So we just looked at it admiringly and wondered if it could be used as a prop one day in our promo photo-shoots.

With or without instruments, promo photo-shoots were a must.  Most were posed outside my mate’s dad’s garage, made of grey breeze-block and thus looking suitably cold and urban, with us trying to look unapproachably snotty while her dear mum took the pictures and tried not to laugh.  Fortunately she knew it was vital to keep the adjacent hanging baskets out of shot.

Finding a name was of the utmost importance – far more of a priority than actually playing anything.  I borrowed mum’s thesaurus and looked up words like dirt  and chaos and noise etc. to get ideas.  A long-list was compiled – names like The Dregs, The Deranged,  The Blasts… nothing really seemed to fit.  Then we got a bit more imaginative and for a while called ourselves The Xtremists - never mind that we were 14-year-old schoolgirls from nice suburban homes and the most extreme thing we could do was to swear within earshot of a Geography teacher.  Some time later I preferred the name The Arseknickers.  I thought it was a neat play on words and it sounded a bit rude – it looked good written on the cover of my school rough book too.

But our fantasy punk band remained just that. 

One day we made the mistake of telling the older blokes who worked in our local jeans shop that we were in a group.  “Oh, have you got many songs?  Do you have any tapes?” one enquired.  I think he must have had something in his eye because it sort of twitched when he looked at his colleague as he said it. Desperate not to lose face we told them that we’d recorded loads of songs.  I frantically searched my brain for lyrics I’d scrawled out in school break-times, most of which went along the lines of  “I hate teachers, they don’t understand, they just want to rule, they’re so bland”…

“Well, bring a tape in next Saturday and we’ll play it in the shop”.  Whatever it was he’d got in his eye was seriously troubling him by now and causing his mouth to twitch at the corners too.  “Okay…” we replied with brash outer confidence, whilst wondering inside what the fuck we were going to do.

An emergency plan was quickly scrambled.  We gathered round my house the next evening with all the equipment we needed to make our tape:  my dad’s TEAC portable cassette machine with its little microphone, a Maxell C60, the Clash album on the turntable of the family stereogram, and a few pages of hastily scribbled lyrics - Clash album lyrics.  The mic was carefully positioned to pick up both the record playing and our voices singing over the top, fingers poised to press the clunky Record and Play keys just as the needle dropped on the vinyl.  Yes, you’ve got it: we just did Karaoke Clash.  “No-one will know”, we thought.

I don’t think our girly choruses of ‘I’m so bored with the USA’ really drowned out Joe Strummer’s vocals and I’m not sure that the finger-tapping on the sideboard added much to the drumming either.  Of course it sounded horrendous, not helped by the fact that the crappy little mic probably picked up the sound of my mum hoovering halfway through Protex Blue better than it did my “he’s in love with Janie Jones, whoa”.

When it came to Saturday morning, I seemed to have developed that twitching condition myself…  So we did what any self-respecting rebels would do – we bottled out and went back to posing instead.

Monday 14 May 2012

No puppy dogs' tails (or tales)...

Image copyright C / Sun Dried Sparrows

Yesterday I found a small snail on the wall.  “Nothing unusual about that” you might say – but the thing is, it was on an inside wall.  Going up by the stairs, if you please.  I assume it came indoors when the window was open but how it got that far without being spotted surprises me – I’m wondering if, like wheelchair-bound Andy in ‘Little Britain’, it waited ’til nobody was looking and then sprinted across the threshold, before returning to a more sedate and gastropod-ish crawl the second it was aware of watchful human eyes.

Anyway I cheerfully picked it up and relocated it to the garden where it can crawl or sprint or even fly for that matter.  Who knows what they get up to when you’re not looking?  I have a great fondness for snails, and slugs, and other slimey, creepy-crawly, multi-legged - or no-legged - things.  Last week I found a large yellow slug – bright yellow, it was, like it had eaten something radioactive.  I doubt there are any discarded bits of plutonium buried amongst the petunias so, on consulting my favourite trusty wildlife book, I reckon it was a Great Black Slug.  Bit of a misnomer there but the Great Black Slug can come in many colours – even a high-visibility-jacket shade of yellow.   I’d have thought a more imaginative name could have been awarded to such a creature but in this case the folks at the Institute Of Entomological Nomenclature* must have been having an off-day.  Perhaps they’d exhausted themselves after an afternoon of coming up with more elaborate names for moths: Ghost Swift, Mother Shipton, Rosy Footman, Scarlet Tiger, Sallow Kitten and many more that conjure up images of all things other than moths.  (I’m sure I once heard Sallow Kitten on John Peel...)

Well I don’t know what that little snail was.  It was possibly a White-Lipped Banded Snail (which apparently can also be dark-lipped and devoid of bands).  As the Gnat said to Alice in Wonderland, “What’s the use of their having names if they won’t answer them?”  “No use to them,” said Alice, “but it’s useful to the people who name them, I suppose”.  Hmm.  I think I’ll just call my snail Brian.

* they name slugs and snails there too, apparently

Sunday 13 May 2012

A soul thing for a Sunday morning V

I think you'll like this... if you don't know it already, it seems quite obcure.  And it's a corker!  Play loud...

Third Point - Spirit

Enjoy your day!

Tuesday 8 May 2012

What's my name?

A great post over at Kolley Kibber set me thinking about nicknames recently.  I had a friend whose slim limbs and bony joints earned her the soubriquet Beanpole, and no matter how many Curly Wurlys or Freddo bars she ate, to everyone else’s chagrin she stayed as skinny as one.  At the same time, a classmate of rather more generous proportions was affectionately referred to as Podge. She took to this quite happily as a term of endearment and the name endured - I could never actually think of her as Caroline.  It has to be said too that this being in the olden days meant she was one of very few chubby pupils in the entire school and the body type which merited such a ‘fattist’ term then might perhaps be considered quite average now. 

For a short while I was rather unkindly called Pasty Face which I understand was a reference to being an insipid looking twelve-year-old with a complexion the colour of wallpaper paste, rather than resembling a Cornish meat and potato dish.  And Goldilocks seems quite sweet now, but at the time I didn't take it well, maybe it sounded too babyish.  Before that, my first name was conveniently tweaked a little to turn it into an unfashionable and slightly comical-sounding boy’s one. I didn’t like it but just learned to take it on the chin.  At least it was better than my young German neighbour’s nickname, Spaz, which, for all its un-PC-ness, was simply a contraction of Sebastian.

Fast forward to my mid-teens and down at the local music venue, which became the centre of a thriving punk scene in the late seventies, there were very few people whose real full names I ever got to know, even though I’d see them there at least once a week.

The punk world was perfect for spawning some memorable monickers, especially useful for those who played in a band. So we had Anarchy and Chunky (no relation to Podge) in one, and Stringy, Snout and Bondage in another.   Less evocative-sounding and of unknown origin, but still inextricably linked to their owners, were the names Milky, Till and Dim.  And for anyone reading this who knows the poetic output of one Attila the Stockbroker I can reliably inform you that back then he was Basil Boghead. 

Then again musicians and singers have been using handy epithets for decades.  Iggy Pop has so much more of a ring to it than James Osterberg, Twinkle far more exotic than Lynn Ripley. 

I didn’t expect to be using anything other than my given name later on in life – it just seemed to be something you grew out of.   And then this internet business changed all that.  At least we get to choose our own.

Thursday 3 May 2012


I lay in bed last night listening to the thunder.

There’s something about that sound I really like.  I like its unpredictability and the often surprising volume of its outbursts, and I still count the seconds between the thunder and lightning to determine how close it is, relishing that moment when the two strike together: “Ooh it’s right above us now!”.   Maybe it stirs something in our primordial depths, a reminder of the true power of nature, of how small and insignificant we really are in its presence. Those deep, vibrating, rumbling drum-rolls and sudden shocking, smacking claps excite me.  Make me tingle.  Thunder seems quite sexy.  As it finally fades away into the distance like a marching band, I find myself missing it and hankering for a slight return.

When I was a kid the sound of thunder was attributed to two main things.  One, my favourite, was that it was “the clouds banging together”.  This seemed particularly credible at night-time, and conjured up a vivid vision of angry, animated black clouds (with frowning expressions) crashing into each other like dodgem cars, little concussion stars circling their battered fluffy faces. The other explanation was that “God is moving his furniture around”.  My secular family background didn’t seem to matter – school had provided the vague belief that there was some grand superhero type character living in the sky, and the idea that he had wooden floors and was a bit clumsy when repositioning his three piece suite seemed acceptable enough.

Having about as much understanding of science as the aforementioned three piece suite I can’t get my head around what really causes such a spectacular weather phenomenon.  I think I’ll just stick to the notion of the blundering cumulonimbus.  They must be feeling pretty battered and bruised this morning.

(no blustering, stormy, metal soundtrack here…
instead just something tenuous from the land of Thor the thunder god)
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