Friday 27 December 2013

Never mind the baubles

If you didn't see it on BBC Four last night, there are 6 days left in which to catch 'Never Mind The Baubles' on BBCiPlayer.  Apparently there are no plans yet to show it again, nor to release it on DVD, so if you can spare an hour I urge you to watch it while you can!

Here's the link.

I remember reading about the Christmas Day 1977 Sex Pistols gig in Huddersfield in support of striking firemen and their children - but only in the music papers.   It seemed that coverage of this worthy event was otherwise studiously avoided by the general media. Thirty-six years on, this Julien Temple film provides the context of that time as a stark framework for previously unseen footage of the gig itself and fills in all the blanks.  And one of those blanks is filled in with obviously happy kids in 'Never Mind The Bollocks' T-shirts singing along to the chorus of 'Bodies'!

It's revealing, interesting and thoroughly heartwarming.

Monday 23 December 2013


Have a brilliant time, one and all.
Thank you so much for tuning in and stopping by!

Saturday 21 December 2013

Red shoes and fleur bleue

Moira Shearer in The Red Shoes.  Love her make-up.

I noticed today that the classic 1948 Powell & Pressburger film The Red Shoes is being shown on BBC2 on Christmas morning. I have such a soft spot for The Red Shoes and I can't really work out why, but I've been trying to...  I guess there's just something particularly evocative about British 1940s films in general which awards them a special place in my heart, and even the most affected delivery of unrealistic dialogue and overstated emotional signposting are all part of their charm.

Perhaps they tap into something from childhood? I have an early memory of watching both The Red Shoes and Brief Encounter with my mum (who had named me after a leading English actress from that era) and probably just about anything with John Mills or James Mason in too, and perhaps I associate the whole feel of the slow pace of storytelling, dramatic lighting and orchestral soundtracks with the cosy naivete of my life back then. I suppose 1940s films were amongst the very first I would have seen in the late '60s and early '70s, movies that were only twenty to thirty years old at the time, and which may have been orginally watched by my parents at the cinema when they were in their teens. British pictures made during and just after wartime seemed to have an artistic defiance in them too, and I'm sure there are plenty of essays on the subject explaining the deeper reasons and motivations behind all that in the political context of the era, but I'll leave that to the academics. All I know is that there is something subtle and special about them which I love and whereas I cannot stomach mawkishness and melodrama in so many other areas of life, I have all the time in the world for it in a 1940s film.

Rather weirdly, I also have time for it in the form of a French Christmas song from 1946 which goes completely against the grain of everything I normally like, unless it's just that whole 1940s thing kicking in again. 'Fleur Bleue' they call this kind of thing in France, apparently, denoting its saccharine sentimentality. I heard this song for the first time the other day in my French class where we had the pleasure of translating its sweet lyrics* and were lulled, like small children, by Tino Rossi's mellifluous voice.  Seeing as it's that time of year and you are no doubt sick of all the usual ubiquitous festive songs, here it is.  I like the odd little film that goes with it too.

Tino Rossi sings Petit Papa Noel, 1946

For complete soppiness and a ridiculous retro indulgence, I may have to listen to this and then watch The Red Shoes on Wednesday morning. That's about as Christmassy and sentimental as it gets round here.

Tino Rossi.... very suave

It's a beautiful Christmas night
Snow spreads its white coat
And eyes lift toward the sky
On their knees, small children
Before closing their eyelids
Say one last prayer

Little Father Christmas
When you come down from the sky
With toys by the thousands
Don't forget my little shoe

But before leaving
You must cover yourself well
Outside you'll be so cold
It's a little bit because of me

I can't wait for the break of day
To see if you have brought me
All the lovely toys that I see in dreams
And that I ordered from you

Little Father Christmas
When you come down from the sky
With toys by the thousands
Don't forget my little shoe

The sandman has been
The children are going to sleep
And you can start,
With your sack over your back,
To the sound of the church bells,
Your distribution of surprises

If you have to stop
On all the roofs in the world
And do all that before tomorrow morning -
Get yourself down the chimneys fast

And when you're on your beautiful cloud
Come to our house first
I haven't always been very well behaved
But I ask for your forgiveness

Little Father Christmas
When you come down from the sky
With toys by the thousands
Don't forget my little shoe

Little Father Christmas

Friday 20 December 2013

Tracks of my peers

No time to blog this week - but for some great 'Tracks of The Year' selections, from Kurt Vile to Daft Punk, Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip to Young Fathers and plenty more, please head over to the most excellent Tune Doctor blog and check out their recent and ongoing posts...

Sunday 15 December 2013

Night walk

You came with me last time – we walked down to the Post Office and we wandered past the Crinkle Crankle wall and down the hill, into the main hub of the village, looking in shop windows, saying hello to passers by. So tonight, walk back with me.  We've been for a curry in the restaurant a bit further along; our bellies are full of Rogan Josh and Dansak, sweetness and sourness and lemon rice. Our voices are hoarse from having to raise them in competition with the birthday party next to us (that loud, high pitched laughter of women of a certain age and demographic; an Estuary English cackle) but soothed and refreshed by two pints of Kingfisher.

We step out of the restaurant into the damp night air and head back home, along the main street. Past the Working Men's Club where two rotund couples are smoking outside, and a lanky dog the colour of a fox wanders over from them to sniff our legs, we stop to stroke him and notice the way his whole body seems to bend like rubber as he weaves around us. I'm reeled in by expressive eyes and the long, straight line of his nose. A noble looking dog.

We can hear a rhythmic thud thud thud from the large timber framed hotel across the road, gradually it forms itself into a distant song, a song as if heard underwater. BeyoncĂ©. I think. Coloured bulbs mimic the beat and illuminate the dancing shapes behind the leaded light windows, exaggerating this contrast between ancient and modern. Built in the 1400s, this is the pub where a local man was murdered in 1648, apparently over a heated argument about politics, I wonder what party he supported?  His ghost is said to haunt the corridors... but I expect he stays away on nights like this.

As BeyoncĂ©'s voice fades behind us, a group of young women emerges from the shadowy distance ahead. Is the collective noun 'gaggle'? A gaggle of young women sounds right anyway.  I notice the legs first. Legs of various thicknesses, disembodied legs in pale tights that pick them out against the darkness of black skirts and grey pavement. Legs that seem to tiptoe awkwardly in tall fragile heels. Deep in our own conversation we don't say hello as we pass but our eyes flit across briefly, taking in shiny doll hair and Rimmel tans.

We walk over the bridge, next to the open field, but the mud from the tractor tracks makes our soles stick and slip and slide, so we step into the road and walk by the kerb. There's no traffic. I love this stretch of road at night, so quiet and dark. And then it's back up the hill past the grander houses, a chance to steal glimpses into bedroom windows and see their oak beamed ceilings and shelves full of books and wonder what it's like to be inside looking out.

Up ahead an older woman in a Russian hat walks slowly along the wide path, her little dog on an elastic lead running on blurred legs to catch up, stopping to look back at us, running to catch up, stopping to look back, running to catch up... Suddenly another animal shoots past my ankles and seems to disappear. Another dog, I think. She must have another dog that's not on a lead. But then another one does the same, so fast it nips past me before I can make out anything more than a tail and then it's ducked under a car parked at the side of the path. As we catch up with the tiny beige elastic dog, one of the mystery creatures joins us: it's a brown and white cat. “They're mine!” says the lady at the other end of the lead, smiling warmly. “They come out for a walk too?” we enquire, laughing. “Yes, they always come with me at night” she informs us, “but only at night – in the daytime they've got more sense and stay at home because of the cars”. Cat number two appears and I feel sure I can detect that typical feline expression of: so what's the big deal?  “That's just so sweet!” we say as the cats decide that there are more interesting things going on behind the hedge and their owner stops to wait. “I know! Goodnight then!” she says as we overtake. “Goodnight!” we call back and walk on to the top of the hill - nearly home, “goodnight!

Friday 13 December 2013

Beep beep

I'm waiting for a man. A rufty-tufty, macho, man's man type, in a hi-vis jacket, with a big white van and a well-packed toolbox, who's gonna lift me up and carry me off for an urgent seeing-to. Oh, that's enough of the cheap innuendo. The more boring reality is that I'm waiting for a Vehicle Recovery man to get me and our poorly car to the garage where I hope it can be fixed.

I love our little Polo, though, in spite of its refusal to start today. It's 18 years old, which I think equates to about 97 in dog, cat or car years. It's hardly ever let us down, has been backed onto, scraped, scratched and crashed into by Monster Trucks, big-fuck-off 4WDs and a herd of muntjacs, but it just takes it all on the chin door/wing/bumpers. Even though it won't co-operate today, it is the most reliable car we've ever had.

Anyway, a young lad called Kyle came this morning and tried his best to breathe some life into its engine, but it wasn't happening.  He was lovely, though; sweet-natured, polite and conscientious. Now I'm waiting for his colleague with the orange flashing lights. I can't get down to anything, can't go out and do the things I was supposed to, and I can't relax... hence I'm here. For obvious reasons, I've got this song going through my head. Still sounds good!

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Smelling of roses

“I like that perfume you can smell when you come up the stairs,” Mr SDS announced as he came up to bed the other night, like it was nothing out of the ordinary.

What perfume?”

“Can't you smell it? It's often there, just on the corner, near the wall...”

I hopped out of bed in my powder blue thermal socks, tiptoed halfway down the stairs, pressed my nose up against the wall like a kid at a toyshop window, and sniffed. I didn't get anything at first but then, gradually, a sweet, floral scent permeated my nostrils. I breathed in deeply to inhale the atmosphere, my nose now high in the air, like one of the Bisto kids: ah!  I tried to track its fragrance to some obvious source... the candle on the shelf perhaps? No, it's not a scented one. Or my recently washed jumper on the back of the chair? No.... no. Like a sniffer dog I followed my nose down the staircase and around the room, but it had already faded. I honestly couldn't say where it came from, nor where it went; how mysterious.


I sometimes wonder about the people who lived in this little cottage in the past. Farm workers, weavers, servants, the poorest of villagers with a surplus of children and a shortage of sanitation, TB instead of TV. Our own memories and experiences will mingle ethereally with those of its previous hosts, those who would have witnessed the end of Regency Britain, read the news of Queen Victoria's coronation and expiration, whose sons would have fought in two World Wars, whose daughters would have listened to a new young band called the Beatles. With two hundred years' worth of former inhabitants it seems more than likely that folk may not only have uttered their first words within these walls, but also their last.   The idea that our home, humble and shabby as it is, might be haunted is not one that has ever unduly worried me; you could say I'm a spectral agnostic. However, the moment we stepped over the threshold to view it for the first time we felt as if the house itself was somehow greeting us with warmth and openness. It just had a welcoming ambience, benign and gentle (in spite of an apricot bathroom suite). Maybe the smell as we entered that day was also part of its allure, tempting us to whisper to each other, like naughty schoolchildren, "I want it!" (in spite of an apricot bathroom suite) when the estate agent was out of earshot.  It was sweet and lightly spicy, reminiscent of freshly baked biscuits. It was the soft scent of vanilla from an Air Wick plug-in.

Yesterday evening I was sitting in front of my computer at my tiny workstation under the stairs, as I am now, and I noticed the floral smell again.  A faint but pleasant aroma, hard to pinpoint, it came and went a few times, as if floating past me.  There is no plug-in now.  Maybe whatever is at the root of it is also responsible for the lights flickering sometimes for no apparent reason and a sound like someone pouring water into a jug close by that I heard in the middle of the night just once, not long after we first moved in? Or is that just dodgy wiring and Mr SDS' stomach gurgling? Well, I don't know. But if we have a friendly, fragrant presence that saves us from buying Febreze, then I'll stay in good spirits.

Monday 9 December 2013

Heigh ho heigh ho

New Model Army: Great Expectations (BBC session 1983).  Perfect!

It was time to get a proper job. I'd left the illustration course early, many months before, as I knew I'd never be able to do it for a living (!) and now I needed to earn some real money. True, I'd managed to bring in a few quid here and there in other ways* but they weren't going to keep me in pickled onion Monster Munch and Star Bars, never mind the very real threat of homelessness hanging over me.  Having failed to get the job I didn't want but went for anyway at the supermarket, I was getting seriously worried about my future. Then I saw the ad for a sales assistant at a new record shop opening in a nearby town and it sounded perfect; right up my music-loving street.

Some weeks later and I'd been invited for an interview, which turned out to be a very pleasant, enthusiastic chat - mostly about music, naturally - with the friendly, easy-to-talk-to young man who'd be managing the branch. I don't think I could have been happier or more excited when he rang the following month to offer me the position. Yes. YES! YESSS! I doubt that my delighted acceptance was at all unexpected, although he was perhaps surprised when I told him I had a different surname now since I'd casually married in the interim...

Anyway, just before that Christmas I started my first official, full-time, permanent job in an independent record shop, staffed – quite unusually for the time – by three young women (each with different musical tastes) under the guidance of our lovely and very knowledgeable manager. I've written a little about it before on here so I won't add more now, except to say that this month is a significant anniversary since that record shop opened its shutters and I served my very first customer (a skinhead, I seem to remember).

Thirty years just go by in a flash, don't they?!

40 hours a week for £3640 a year? Nothing much has changed!

* Such as....
- Taping my voice reciting pages from a legal textbook at the request of  a man studying for a law degree
 Modelling at my old art school, seated on a table, fully clothed, having to keep dead still while the students portrayed me in clay
-  Photocopying my macabre ink drawings and selling them as 'gothic stationery' through an advert in the  NME

Friday 6 December 2013

Black and white

Looking for inspiration the other day I delved into my tatty copy of the  *'Encyclopaedia of Patterns and Motifs' and found myself once again captivated not so much by samples of intricate Gothic metalwork or illuminated manuscripts, but by the graphic simplicity of these.  Sometimes less is definitely more.  Lovely, aren't they?

Carved soapstone zebra from Zimbabwe

Native American food bowl decoration from Arizona

Art Nouveau book illustrations based on images of Can Can dancers

Japanese nobleman badges

Japanese crane

Snake design from Ghana

Mexican monkeys

*Encyclopaedia of Patterns and Motifs by Dorothy Bosomworth 1995

Saturday 30 November 2013

You know how to whistle, don't you?

Oh, but I don't! I mastered all those other important things that you have to learn early on in life, like how to ride a bike, swim, play the recorder and pat my head at the same time as rub my stomach and I must say, none of them have come in very useful since. So maybe whistling wouldn't either but, still, I just wish I could, in case one day I have the urge to join in with Otis, Bobby McFerrin, that B&Q advert with the Peter, Bjorn and John song, or serenade the local robin.  I can do the oral gymnastics required to make a bottle-neck sing and get a thick blade of grass to shriek like a banshee between my thumbs, but I couldn't do a Roger Whittaker impression to save my life, even if I did grow a beard (which is probably more likely, given my age).

How do you do it?   “You just put your lips together and blow” says Lauren Bacall in 'To Have and Have Not', making it sound simple, but I pout and puff and all that happens is... well, something like this...

One day I will whistle, I will.

I bet you can!

Thursday 28 November 2013

Dear John

I caught a discussion on BBC Breakfast yesterday about the price of show tickets. Never mind the second mortgage needed to see the Monty Python reunion, it was guest John Robb, the writer, journalist and musician, who held my attention. Here's a man in his early fifties, with a distinctly severe haircut,  in a jacket just as sharp, open neck black shirt and big-buckled creepers... and he looks great. You can see he's getting older (as we all are) - he's more lined with a heavier brow and a little rough around the edges.  That's fine, it suits him.

I don't subscribe to the idea of being an old punk; those days are over and, the way I see it, they were meant to be short-lived.  Can't see the point in trying to look exactly the same as I did decades ago - apart from anything else it seems to lack imagination. However, I love to see someone getting older without completely losing their edge, and I reckon John's doing that.

It's about how you age, isn't it?  It inevitably brings more creases, but that doesn't mean you stop ironing them out of your clothes. You don't have to start wearing shapeless trousers and beige anoraks, unless you really want to, of course. Not every man could (or would like to) carry off the John Robb look, I'm sure, but I'm so glad someone can!

And, personally, I love to see a few age lines on a man's face.

'We don't stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.'
George Bernard Shaw

Monday 25 November 2013

In pictures

Remember that walk last week?  I went that way again this afternoon; took my camera this time.

I don't have a lot to say today so, if you like, just come with me.

Telegraph wires criss-cross the sky like tramlines.

I look over the bridge for ducks - can't see any.

The Christmas tree lying on the grass makes me think of a wounded animal (with green fur).

No, I don't know what he did... but I'm curious.  Bet you are too.

I just like this...

...and this.  I notice it's been freshly painted,

unlike this basement window.

 It's not even 4pm but the streetlight at the top of the hill is glowing against a heavy sky as I walk back.

Nearer to home, there's a Still Life with Traffic Cone.

Back here now, and someone's just left a boat - a boat! - outside my house.  It had a flat tyre.  I think he's going to pick it up in the morning.

Sunday 17 November 2013

Walk with me

Out the front door, turn right, past the rest of the red brick terraced cottages, the two big detached houses, and then the crinkle crankle wall. I love its curves, designed to economise on bricks and help fruit trees flourish by providing a sun trap in each of its concave spaces. There are around 50 of them in this county alone, twice as many as in the whole of the rest of England, apparently.

Aerial view of a crinkle crankle wall

 On to the corner, turn right again, I'm near the top of the hill and the wide path slopes down in front of me. What a view.

A beautiful big crow swoops across from my left, its flight seems more languid so close. I stand still while it flies directly over my head, I can feel the ripple in the air from its wingbeat and I get a thrill from its proximity. It lands on the roof of the nearby house and I watch as it drops something large and brown from its beak and tries to figure out a way to eat it. It looks like the remnant of a roof tile but I guess it's a very stale piece of bread. Or toast. I could watch this lovely creature all day.

Not the actual crow.
(pic: Anemone Projectors)

A middle-aged couple, dressed from head to toe in a mossy green the same hue as the shadowy patches in the verge, stride towards me briskly, heads down. I start to open my mouth to greet them as we pass each other, but their faces remain determinedly fixed to the ground and I don't continue with my acknowledgement after all. Tourists, probably. Only tourists here make such a huge effort to pretend you don't exist. Everybody else looks up, smiles and says “Hello!”

Down to the bottom, through the gate, over the bridge and into the main street. The pub looks welcoming and I could just fancy that goats cheese dish advertised in curly writing on the board by the steps. I notice Helen inside, she looks out just as I glance in and we exchange silent salutations through the glass.

Onwards and I pass the fancy shoes and handbags shop which I've never been in. A bright pink, almost fluorescent, tiny satchel in the window catches my eye. I like it but I think it's probably for a child. And there's no price on it, nor on any of the items – not on the leopard spot court shoes or the shiny gold sandals. You know what they say about shops which don't display prices: if you can't see how much it is, you can't afford it. I keep on walking.

A shocking pink version of this.

There are prices on the items in the window of the adjacent gallery, but I still couldn't afford them. I like this gallery, though; it's full of wacky sculptures, weird things like baby dolls inside bottles and hares with incongruously long ears. It also houses some original signed prints from Bowie album covers and right now his Hunky Dory face, framed by the golden hair and clasping hands, looks on distantly from behind the wide window.

A man in a hi-vis jacket is walking towards me, checking his phone, puts it back in his pocket, looks up and catches my eye as we pass each other. His are sparkly blue, lively eyes, set in a pleasant face; I return his warm smile and they linger on me for a second. A subtle, vital, extra, second, just enough to notice, betrays an appreciative flirtatiousness which makes me feel a sudden frisson of excitement. It's just so nice to receive a little attention, to feel I haven't quite yet joined the brigade of the invisible, although I know those days won't be far off. I take this moment, meaningless though it is, and enjoy the brief boost it provides.

I say "Afternoon!" to the short fat lady with the little white dog and then, further on, the tall man and his wife looking in the window of the estate agents. "250,000!" she exclaims in disbelief.

On into the Post Office with its papery smell and racks of Haribo sweets, greet the staff and bid farewell to my parcel of artwork, then retrace my steps back home.

My mind is free as I smile at the party of pensioners coming out of the Old School, and pass the time of day with the man I seem to see every time I walk this route, the one who always wears a grey raincoat and looks like Mr Price from 'Please Sir!'

That's him, on the right.

It's an uneventful walk but somehow it feels like more: a thumbnail of my life, a snapshot of my small world. As I stroll past the oak tree and a huge group of rooks take off from its big dark boughs, I almost feel like writing about it.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

I am not human

There isn't that much in life that really irks me - a few odd little things such as washing up saucepans, women with high squeaky voices (step forward Sharon Osbourne / Yoko Ono) and trying to get the last bit of margarine out of the tub. Just lately I've added something else to the list: this disturbing trend for the anthropomorphism of inanimate objects in labelling.

I feel patronised. I'm not a child, you don't need to use baby talk when you speak to me, and likewise I don't need my Savoy Cabbage to personally instruct me how to try it or explain how to keep it (or ought that to be him/her?) in the fridge.

I'm sure the postman feels the same about this package...

It's the use of "I" and "me" that's really bugging me.  It was fine in the fantasy context of  'Alice In Wonderland', and 'Eat Me' dates have been using it as a quirky little brand name for decades. However I fear this tendency to use the first person when it's not a person at all is getting more widespread; it's just another part of the whole dumbing down process, isn't it?

I mean, tell us what to do with things and where they fit by all means, but please don't pretend you're a speaking cabbage or a literate box. Next you'll be stamping little smiley faces on grapes and god knows what directions you'll put on the loo paper rolls.

Some bright spark will then start attaching helpful voice recordings to products like our morning cereal. “I'm lovely with milk poured over me, just don't let me get soggy!” we'll be told by Sharon Osbourne, disguised as a cornflake, in her most irritating falsetto. If that ever happens I may just have to reach for the Domestos to wantonly ignore Yoko's “Don't drink me!” plea.

Thursday 31 October 2013

Bruce & I

“I had one of those dreams last night,” I said to Mr SDS this morning. Yes, one of those dreams - you know the kind I mean. “It was with, oh, Bruce whatsisname,” I explained. We then went through a number of Bruces with whom I'm very glad I didn't do unspeakable things in my slumber:

“Bruce Dickinson?”

Ugh no, not him with that histrionic voice!  That would have made me run to the hills.

“Bruce Forsyth?”

Cue countless catchphrases leading to innuendo overload:
Nice to see you, to see you...
Give us a twirl!
You get nothing for a pair!
Higher... Lower...

"Bruce Lee?  Bruce Springsteen?  Bruce Willis?"

But no, it was none of the above, thankfully. It was, you know, the one who made 'Withnail & I'... Bruce Robinson. I've no idea why he turned up in my dream but I don't mind admitting that I'm glad he did - far better than Ricky Gervais, whom I've had twice, for some bizarre reason.  But Bruce Robinson - such a talented, witty, edgy and really rather gorgeous man, I'm sure you'd agree. Apart from being a fan of his first film - who isn't?! -  I also enjoyed his cameo role in 'Still Crazy' about the fictional band Strange Fruit, and his biography 'Smoking in Bed' (thanks, A!).  I warmed to him even more when I read that he checks his kindling for spiders before lighting a fire so as not to inadvertently incinerate the little creatures, and that he's written some books for children which are illustrated by his artist wife. And last night he... well, I won't say... but it was all very strange and fruity and crazy indeed, as well as being in a public place in broad daylight (blush).  It was as if I'd "gone on holiday by mistake".

Saturday 26 October 2013

Get sett

Work's a bit on the heavy ticket at the mo; nine and ten-hour days, seven days a week (with occasional blog activity sponsored by Nescafe Fine Blend).  All the book illustrators I know frequently have similar experiences: long hours, tight deadlines and low pay, so we must be doing it for love.  Besides, in how many other jobs do you get to think about what a young badger might look like blowing up a balloon?!

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Dear Vlad

Sometimes spam emails just make me smile:

My name is Vladimir Kupriyanchuk
I developed an interest in you.
If you have the opportunity then please send me information materials and souvenirs (stickers, pen, t-shirt, notepad, poster or other.)
I would be very grateful.

This charming fellow contacted me the other day and I was terribly tempted to send him a little goody bag in the post.  He sent me his address and everything!  I could give him one of my pencils with a personally chewed end, several notebooks with my very own handwriting in and there's an unwashed T-shirt in the laundry basket that he might like.

It was so much nicer to read his message than some of the others, though, particularly as I'm not actually 'seeking sluts to fuck' at the moment.  (But apparently there are plenty in my local town and all you have to do is 'click here to enter'.  Good to know.)

Sunday 13 October 2013

But is it art? III

The small slab of wood that I just use as a coaster for my water pot when I'm working has evolved into a kind of 'paint stain palimpsest' (and try saying that whilst eating a Strawberry Chewit):

I'm so tempted to hang it on the wall!

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Look for me walkin' just any ol' way

Like the chubby girl who buys dresses three sizes too small as an incentive to lose weight, I bought myself some new Winter boots the other day in hope that I might actually go somewhere in them. A sort of 'have boots, will travel' thing:

...Well I might take a boat, or I'll take a plane
Might hitchhike, or jump a railroad train
Your kind of lovin' drives a man insane
So look for me walkin' just any ol' way...

Would these boots be imbued with magic powers that would remove me from my current life of virtual hermitude and transport me to new, exciting, vibrant places? Well, not exactly, but coincidentally not long after buying them (online, of course, seeing as I don't get out much) I did have to make several trips by foot. To the Co-op, the Post Office, the doctors, the hairdresser, that kind of thing. The irony was that I didn't even wear my new footwear for any of those; however, I did wear them when I was unexpectedly invited out for a drink the other evening.

I tottered and teetered my way down the road in them, unused to wearing such high wedges because you don't really need high wedges when you sit in a shed all day long.  I met my friend, who's so tall she doesn't need heels but wears them anyway. She has legs as long as a Barbie doll's – not literally, obviously, as that would actually make her very short and somewhat deformed – but you know what I mean. Luckily she was able to help me across the road as I tried not to wobble nor break an ankle in the path of an oncoming pantechnicon, and we managed to get from one side to the other side in just under five minutes.  Plus she was able to forewarn me about low beams in the pub, herself being skilled at ducking under them whilst carrying a pint of Guinness and a scampi dinner without losing any peas. Actually I'm such a short-arse compared to her that I still didn't have to duck, although I did so anyway as a gesture of solidarity and it probably looked rather sweet.  It also reminded me of one of the first visual jokes I ever saw, which I replicate quickly for you here:

So I came home unscathed, and in fact so used to being elevated on these heels as the evening wore on that when I finally took them off it felt so different that I fell over, and that's the story I'm sticking to.

I'm looking forward to making more exciting trips now that the magic boots seem to be working, so in a few weeks I'm going down to London for this.  Assuming I don't fall over in the path of a No. 44 or get hit by low flying signs (or ducks?!), then hopefully I'll be able to report back.

Sunday 6 October 2013

What's in a name?

As anyone who ever fantasised in their teens about forming a band knows, one of the most important things to decide on was the name.  For my friends and me, it was the most important, and came way ahead of actually buying an instrument, let alone learning to play one.  Researching names wasn't too difficult in our punky heyday (and I've talked about this once before here ) - simply a matter of looking up suitably grungey words in a Thesaurus as a starting point.  Hence the 14-year-old Arseknickers never actually did learn to play anything, but the name of the band still adorned many a school exercise book.

Now, though, surely the pool of potentially catchy band names must be running a bit dry? We've had colours, regal monikers, numbers, Black this's and White that's, a short-lived phase of changing 'The' to 'Thee', countries, cities, trends for suffixing names with '-beats', '-men', '-girls' and '-cats' etc, cars, animals, weather conditions and foodstuffs, as well as a whole load of combinations of the above.

I suppose all the more obvious, short, sharp names already being allocated has given rise to more unexpected combinations of words; unrelated adjectives, nouns and phrases.  I think you can go to sites which generate these names, although that seems like a cop-out to me. But I guess anything is possible if it has a certain ring to it (and some readers may already know that I'm married to a man who was in a group with a particularly ridiculous name.  Which also includes a colour.)  It's no wonder then that the sentence, "sounds like the name of a band!" is frequently heard in this house when, for whatever reason, some random words get strung together in haste and sound, unwittingly, rather weirdly good.  Ok, not necessarily 'good' but certainly weird.  At SDS Towers, in the last week alone, we've had 'clubfoot chaffinch' and also 'liquid biscuit', both of which were uttered by me in a genuine attempt to describe something real (in the first case it was a deformed bird, and in the second a very tasty Vanilla Chai tea).   I'm rather partial now to taking it one step further and putting those two together to form the (multi-instrumental seven-piece fusion) combo: Liquid Biscuit & the Clubfoot Chaffinches...  Look out for them gigging in a town near you some time soon.  Well, possibly.  They'd probably be shit but I'd love to see their logo.

(It had to be...!)  Half Man Half Biscuit

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Not so pretty in pink

Auntie Betty (who was not a real aunt but one of several neighbours always referred to as 'auntie' or 'uncle') used to call me 'little princess'. I didn't mind. It made me feel special and a little bit mystical. Pink was a colour I rarely wore, I couldn't stand frills and ribbons, and I preferred to play with my clockwork (clockwork!) train set than with baby dolls, but princesses were different in those days, I'm sure. Princesses were strange!

I don't know quite when the whole Disneyfied pretty in pink princess obsession of today started, but the regal fantasies of my girlhood were mostly scratchily drawn in monochrome and created by authors of a stature that I didn't know about at the time, such as Eleanor Farjeon and Rudyard Kipling. As with all the best fairy tales, there were often dark undercurrents.  They included handsome princes, fairies and witches but, thank god, no overpowering pressure to be pretty or pink.

This was one of my favourite books:

It included the 'The Birthday of the Infanta' by Oscar Wilde, 'Princess September' by W. Somerset Maugham, and my favourite tale by E. Nesbit, 'Melisande'. The writing was, and not surprisingly, fantastic, and my sister and I were both enchanted. I was recently given a 1962 American copy of the book and it was an unexpected delight to revisit the worlds of a princess whose hair grew an inch every night, a princess who had no gravity and a princess who had the longest nose on earth. Here are some of the lovely inky images from it, by Beni Montresor, who not only illustrated and wrote children's books but was also a set designer as well as opera and film director. There's nothing pink nor frilly about these...

Monday 23 September 2013

It's got legs

What a life for a Daddy Longlegs.  Once it's pupated from the brilliantly named leatherjacket, it emerges from the underground to fly weakly and drunkenly around for a short while, existing solely to mate.  This stage of its life is all about sex, sex, sex - some don't even bother to eat.   And then it dies.  During its brief time as an adult it risks life and, more specifically, limb(s), if it floats into an unwelcoming house and gets fried on a light bulb, or strays into a playground where evil children lie in wait to amputate those fragile legs.

Well, I like them, they're cute.

Here's an old pic from my sketchbook archive.  The original caption was, "Yes, she's gorgeous - legs right up to her neck!"  A slightly less tasteful alternative was, "Let's get legless!"  and others included, "You're pulling my leg" plus "I'm a leg man myself".  The list could go on, I'm sure. 

Oh you sexy thing

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Mental flossing

I was at the dentist yesterday and found myself reflecting on what a different experience it is now to that of forty years ago. Society's ever-increasing obsession with the 'perfect' appearance generally troubles me, but at least it's done our mouths a favour. In the pursuit of a smile so bright white it could compete with car headlights in a 'Dazzle the Rabbits' competition, and jaws so immaculately regular you could name a well-known Blondie album after them (and I don't mean Eat To The Beat), people are taking more care of their choppers. (Phew, that was a long sentence...) It's even happening here where we are famed, in the most uncomplimentary way, for our 'English Teeth'.  Dental clinics have become dental 'emporiums' and the one I go to now has a name that sounds more like a cocktail lounge than anything remotely medical.

As a typical child growing up in '70s Britain, an essential part of my daily diet was sugar, and it was usually taken two to three times a week in concentrated Spangles, Milky Way and Sherbet Pip form. It provided just the right amount of hyperactivity for important pursuits like French Skipping, but my teeth fared less well and by the time I was twelve my open mouth boasted an impressive display of silvery amalgam fillings. Then, just when I was at my most self-conscious, I had to wear two dental braces - simultaneously.  I could set off metal detectors three streets away with ease, but speaking and eating required supreme effort.

The local dental surgery was a familiar place for all the wrong reasons, so my mum used to make each ordeal a little more bearable by promising a small present on the way home. Once she'd wiped the dribble from my chin, she'd take me down to my favourite shop, Pearman & Blacker, where the delights on its many racks and displays let me temporarily forget the fuzzy sensation in my cheek or an aching jaw. No, it wasn't a sweet shop; that would have just been in bad taste. It was a bookshop.  That smell of paper-and-printing-ink overrode the essence of antiseptic in my nostrils, the crisp covers promised magic carpet rides to lands where dentists didn't exist.

I have mercury fillings, corrective braces, extractions, anaesthetics and injections to thank for the shelves in my childhood bedroom becoming filled with Puffins and other paperbacks. Mrs Pepperpot, Five Children and It, the Moomins, Spike Milligan's Milliganimals, the Children of Green Knowe and even the Wombles all came into my life via my teeth. Fortunately those frequent trips to the dentist mean they are stronger and straighter now, but I'm very glad the legacy of a '70s childhood was so much more than just the tooth decay.

Saturday 14 September 2013

All that glitters...

Should I have felt ashamed? Or, even worse: afraid? Afraid that at any moment the police would knock on the door and demand to search the premises, perhaps even to seize my possessions? And all because I couldn't resist listening to something that I'll never again hear on the radio. Regardless of what anybody actually thinks of the song itself it's just not going to get airplay... because once someone has done something despicable, their creative output has to be eradicated from all forms of public exposure too.

It's not that 'I Didn't Know I Loved You ('Til I Saw You Rock'n'Roll)' was ever a favourite of mine, but it was a song that my nine-year old self did rather like. When it turned up on a CD in our local charity shop, I had the desire to hear it again. That stomping glam rock rhythm had me bouncing around in my chair and singing along. Mr SDS cheerfully enlightened me to the fact that when he was at school the lyrics had been memorably changed to, “I didn't know I loved you 'til I saw your sausage roll” as well as the somewhat more unsavoury but typically puerile version, “hairy hole”. Ahem. But I think everybody I knew liked a little bit of Gary Glitter back in the day. I recall walking down the road with my school-friends singing 'I Love You Love' in unison, twirling our satchels theatrically, then collapsing into giggles, the kind that made our chests ache and our eyes stream. It was all so innocent, or so we thought. I certainly never fancied GG, nor (thankfully) did I want him as a Fantasy Dad, but he could sing a good, catchy, rebel-rousing tune and had a unique stage presence that was hard to ignore.

I enjoyed the song yesterday. It was just a song. However, there was something inside me that made me feel I shouldn't be listening to it. Was it like some kind of guilt by association? Was it the fear that if the neighbours were to hear Mr Gadd's distinctive vocals through our wafer-thin walls, they would assume terrible things about us too? Is that why it will never be included in a Top of the Pops repeat or any other TV broadcast in which it might have featured? Although, in a way, not to include it is a bit like trying to re-write history. Acknowledging its existence isn't the same as condoning his behaviour....but it seems that way somehow. There is also the argument that a convicted criminal shouldn't be entitled to earn further royalties, and that a radio station could lose revenue from advertisers if it played something that could be considered offensive. So is it just easier to pretend it didn't exist than to have to explain or justify its inclusion?

Thinking about this reminded me of a blog post I read a while back (unfortunately I can't remember where) in which the writer expressed his personal dilemma at having loved a particular band's music for years only to later discover that they supported far right politics. It didn't stop him liking the songs he'd always liked but it made him feel differently disposed towards them as a whole. His taste in music was separate from his taste in politics, but they all get tangled up together in this business, don't they? I guess the same could be said about attitudes to many people in the public eye with a creative output – authors, artists, comedians, actors – if we discover that they're wife-beaters or racists or anything else that we're repelled by, how do we then feel about the things they made, played or did that we originally liked for very different reasons? Our judgements feel tarnished, our integrity in doubt, yet they weren't made or based on the same grounds. I think there's an instinctive and self-protective need to disconnect ourselves completely, even though it is actually a denial of our intrinsic, personal taste in one relatively small aspect of life.

Anyway, I'm not a secret Gary Glitter fan. I just wanted to be able to say that I listened to a song for nostalgic reasons and that I was honest enough with myself to admit that I still liked it for what it was. I was also honest enough with myself to admit that I didn't know if I 'should' (and I hate that word 'should'!)  So you'll understand why I've chosen not to include it here but, if you find you just can't help singing it in your head now, I recommend trying the 'sausage roll' lyric.

Monday 9 September 2013

What's in the nest box?

Safe, environmentally friendly and cosy accommodation
with comfortable feather bed, central heating and regular room service.
Quiet location with garden view; babies very welcome.
Available Spring and Summer.

Isn't it beautiful?

Trailer Bride: Hope Is A Thing With Feathers

Friday 6 September 2013

Expletives not deleted

You're not easily offended, are you, right?  So you won't mind me posting this pic of a vinyl sticker that a kind friend gave to us a while back.  (I know, other people get flowers and chocolates...)

(Notice the 'not suitable for children under 3 years'...)

We laughed and said, "Thank you very much", then put it in the drawer, along with all the other random things that we 'might use one day'.  Although, this was one thing that I hoped we wouldn't need to.  I mean, where would you stick such a thing?

So... on Tuesday I was checking my bank statement and discovered that someone had stolen money from my account.  Five times - in one day.  I've no idea quite how - had they hacked into my card details online? - have I been caught out at a dodgy cashpoint? - it's still a mystery.  Not the end of the world but a pain in the arse having to make the necessary phone calls, fill out fraud/crime forms, cancel my card and wait for a new one.  I know it's not personal but it still feels like a form of violation.  I've been physically burgled before (like many people, I'm sure), which feels a lot more traumatic - but still there is something about the calculated sophistication of this type of theft which is troubling.  And who else are they doing it to?  Perhaps someone who is already vulnerable, stressed or struggling? Bastards!  

At least now I know exactly where I could stick that sticker.

(I'm still limping on with my old computer, squeezing every last drop from it while I wait to get a new one... creak, creak, whirr, whirr...)

Wednesday 4 September 2013


This beautiful, mellow Summer yawns on in the manner of a sleepy cat, metaphorical paws outstretched. Spider threads hang like washing lines across the garden path, the dandelion seeds drift on the breeze; I still catch them and make wishes.   But I find this time of year a little poignant because I know it’s nearing its end.  The once vibrant colours are looking tired and sun-bleached now and the daylight makes its exit so much earlier, as if it needs more sleep to renew itself (much like I do).  Plus I keep finding dead things.  Dead bumblebees mostly, which are lovely to pick up because at least you can stroke their little furry backs without fear of reprisal.  Lately too I’ve found masses of detached butterfly wings; it seemed a bit of a mystery as to why there were so many, until I witnessed the quite remarkable spectacle of a wasp catching a small tortoiseshell, turning it over whilst pinning it to the ground and then flying off, somewhat heavily, with its prey.  I think the wasps are having a feast this year, what with the caterpillars’n’all.  

And from the sublime to the ridiculous: much like Summer, my faithful desktop PC, which I use for everything, is knackered and close to the end too.  I’ve just had a clear-out and found the receipt for it (from 2006!) which, by complete coincidence, is dated 4th September.  Given the cynical but credible notion of built-in obsolescence I think it’s done pretty well to last this long but it really is arthritic now, limping and wheezing its way through every task, its fan whirring in protest when I push it to work a little harder, so I’m on the search for a new one.  I might be quiet on the blogging front for a short time while I get myself organised.  Just making a wish on a dandelion seed won’t get it sorted….

Emiliana Torrini: Unemployed in Summertime
Just because it's such a perfect Summer song.

Friday 30 August 2013

Fantasy Dads

I generally avoid highly topical subjects on here because they’re already getting overkill coverage elsewhere, but a revelation in the news this week has caused me to totally rethink something.  I’m going to have to amend my ‘Fantasy Dads’ list.

I must make it clear that there isn’t anything awful about my real dad; he’s a good-hearted man and really rather quaint, it’s just that he lives on another planet.  To be honest, I’ve come to think over recent years that he actually has a mild degree of Asperger’s Syndrome (he's that 'mathematical genius who couldn't boil an egg' type) so it’s not his fault that he forgets my birthday and moved house without passing on his ‘phone number.  I’ve even had reason to question if he really is my biological father – but that’s another story for another time.  Maybe.

Anyway, without wishing to do him too much of a disservice, his lack of involvement in my life left a void and it had to be filled.... with fantasy dads.  Dads who’d inspire, offer words of wisdom, be creative, make me laugh and perhaps lend me £10k now and then.  And I was quite happy with my list of perceived paternal greatness, which has remained unchanged for some years. Here’s how it goes, in no particular order:

Michael Palin
David Attenborough
Billy Connolly
Tony Hart

and then there was….

...a certain Australian entertainer, artist and animal lover. 

Oh shit.

Ron Wood: old enough to be my dad ;-)
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