Sunday 24 February 2013


                              Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy by David Hockney

I felt very uninspired and a little unwell yesterday which may explain why I spent over an hour trying to crack the expression on a dingo's face.  Say that last bit in an Australian accent and it sounds like a colourful euphemism, but I really was just struggling disproportionately with some animal drawings.  I decided to give up for a while and as I put (what's left of) my putty rubber in a home-made card box a memory came to me and I thought I'd come in and waste some time blogging instead.  So, just to bring some colour into these grey, bleak February days, here's something bright and retro, inspired by thinking about Aussies and boxes. (Not cricket!)

I was lucky enough to catch the temporary Ossie (ok it's tenuous!) Clark exhibition in the fashion section of the V&A ten years ago.  I love so many things in the V&A but the fashion exhibits are amongst my favourites and it was brilliant to see some of his striking original outfits from the '60s and '70s while I had the chance.  As a memento I bought these great little postcards of sketches by Ossie’s textile-designer wife, Celia Birtwell, from 1969.  I just love the drawings and her vibrant, graphic fabrics.

Celia and Ossie were part of the sixties 'Bohemian' set, living in Notting Hill and having close connections with many notable rock'n'roll names of the time.  There's something really compelling about the famous painting of them (and their cat) by David Hockney which is apparently thought to be the 'most-viewed' picture ever at the Tate (I make do with my tatty postcard of it, above).  Their clothes were worn by the Beatles, Stones, Hendrix, Twiggy and Marianne Faithfull amongst others.  Looking at the designs above they seem to epitomise the late '60s/early '70s - but Celia was particularly inspired by artists from other eras - such as Matisse, costume designer Leon Bakst (whose drawings I adore!) and Picasso.

I was really attracted to these designs, even though I suspect I could never have pulled off those dresses! - at least not without looking like an auditionee for 'Abigail's Party'... After that visit to the V&A, in homage to her, I made some boxes (I have a thing about boxes), put together very simply from stiff card, and painted her fabric patterns on them in acrylics.  All those years of watching Blue Peter as a kid must have paid off, although I can honestly say that no sticky-back-plastic was used here, nor were they ever intended for a hibernating tortoise.  They were only meant to be a bit of fun but I’ve been using them ever since and amazingly they haven't fallen apart yet.  I always need small containers for those easily-losable things but I rarely find ready-made ones in the right size; these one-offs do the job.  There's a selection of (what's left of) my putty rubbers in the bottom one.

It's ok, I'm not trying to pass the patterns off as originals - they are pure Celia Birtwell
and for my personal use only!  (I add paranoiacally)

And here’s Sandie Shaw wearing it.  The Ossie Clark/Celia Birtwell dress, I mean, not a hand-made box.  I came across this clip by accident and was strangely excited when I recognised the material of her outfit!  (If, like me, you really don't want to hear 'Puppet On A String' yet one more time, even - or especially - sung in German, then I recommend turning the sound off and imagining it's her version of 'Your Time Is Gonna Come').

Sitting here now in an old brown marl jumper I’m feeling so terribly drab…  Maybe I need to don a green and yellow maxi dress to help inspire, especially as I have to cogitate on a koala today.  I wish I could be as creative as Ms Birtwell.

UPDATE:  By pure coincidence I just found that there is this Ossie Clark exhibition going on right now!

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Abstract moment(s) of the week # 2

The mother-in-law has done it again.  Not only does it seem that, at the age of 81, she is a secret Motörhead fan, but now we have our suspicions that she's got a copy of 'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn' tucked away somewhere amongst the kitten ornaments.

And she'd have us believe it was all Tom Jones and Petula Clark.

Here's one of her latest completed puzzle pages - it's that box on the right that caught our attention: Pink Floyd founder, ___ Barrett.

At least she would have done a better job of filling in a card than the advertiser who put this in a local shop window...

I'm not quite sure why they thought they didn't have enough room to complete the word TRANSIT on the same line - only two letters left to go... !  And we know they mean VAN and not NAN.  Nor ITNAN even.  Oh now I'm feeling a little bad for being so mean here (bloody Cancerian) because I know that reading/writing can be a huge struggle for some, but still... it might have been an idea to get someone else to write this card out.

Anyway, there can be no denying that the words on this food bag are perfectly clear:

They just seem a bit random! So, our jam doughnuts were prepared in an area that handles, amongst other somewhat unexpected things, Crustaceans and Lupin?   I couldn't help checking mine for bits of crab claw and petals - it's just lucky I wasn't put off by the celery stalk poking out the hole.  Something to dip in the jam anyway, which may or may not have contained strawberries.

Sunday 17 February 2013

Black and white and read all over

I ♥ pictograms!

I’m fascinated and impressed by the way a three dimensional object or a piece of information can be reduced down to a simple, flat, monochrome graphic and yet can still be universally understood.   It must take a special kind of skill to design one effectively, but presumably the creators go through life without ever receiving any credit.

There’s no room for fuss or detail; it’s art at its most basic, no-nonsense level.  I love the use of blocks and shapes, symmetry and white space.  It's not a way of drawing I'd find easy, with rarely any outlines and no opportunity for subtle shading. 

Some pictograms are just perfect in their simplicity, although I struggled with a few on this leaflet I picked up the other day.

Among my favourites for being aesthetically pleasing as well as symbolic are the brush (for 'solvent-based paints, wood varnishes and enamels') and the bin (for ‘waste, dirt, filth or refuse’).  That rat is pretty cool too.  You'll be pleased to know I had no intention of sending one through the international mail anyway.

I remember a homework project from my Geography class when I was eleven.  It wasn’t quite the same as coming up with a pictogram but the principle was similar - we had to make simple diagrams to represent objects from an aerial perspective.  I didn’t realise how very unoriginal I was being at the time but, yes, I drew this

Miss T didn’t like it and said she had no idea what it was.  She was a harsh teacher in that first year and we were all rather scared of her.  Mind you, when she came back in the second year as Mrs A she had changed completely and was nice as pie…

I’ll be forever grateful to the mysterious Mr A for making her a happy woman and for inadvertently making my Geography lessons a lot more enjoyable.  I hope he enlightened her to a whole series of visual jokes about sombreros.

There can be no doubt that this is a Mexican frying an egg

But maybe the best ever use of a completely stripped down, perfect, graphic pictogram is this Frank Zappa album cover.  Pure brilliance.

For more musical pictogram ideas how about these: 
Rock’n’roll goes hieroglyphical

NB This post was partly inspired by this (Thank you Dr MVM)

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Beautiful ones

In recent posts I’ve been doing rather a lot of navel-gazing (just a boring un-pierced innie if you’re interested) so it’s about time I contemplated someone else’s.  How about Brett Anderson’s (in a flimsy black lacy blouse, open to the waist…)?

Regular readers may have picked up on my better-late-than-never appreciation of Suede.  I was so pleased to see them on BBC’s Red Button with Lauren Laverne the other night*, performing a perfect mix of songs old and new.  As far as I’m concerned, they’ve still got it as a band.  And, even though he has (perhaps wisely) straightened out a little with age, Brett has certainly still got it in bucket-loads.  I don’t know quite how to define ‘it’ but I’m sure you know what I mean: that certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ that says he was always meant to be… someone. 

I wish I’d paid more attention to them in the early days.  I remember stumbling across a small piece on them in the NME when they first came into the music papers’ consciousness and, if my memory serves me right, Bernard and Brett were wearing these awful shirts.  I mean, really awful.  Big jumbo 1970s collars and horrible patterns, maybe Bernard even had a tank-top over his (or I could just be imagining that).  Along with the floppy long hair and arrogant pose, I found it hard to tell from the picture what they’d be like musically.  They did stand out, though, and the way I remember my reaction to that first picture proves they had an effect.

However, whilst I quite liked them, I never considered myself a Suede fan; I appreciated some of that Bowie-esque glam quality and Brett’s striking androgyny, but otherwise I took little notice.  I even missed out on their memorable performance of Animal Nitrate at The Brits at the time.  It has so much attitude - I was really hoping I could find it on youtube to post here but no such luck (I managed to see it recently, as we kept a recording of the BBC's 'The Seven Ages Of Rock' which included quite a bit about it.)  Anyway at least I can post a picture from it, navel and all.

The girls fancy him and the boys want to be him - or is it the other way round?

To put it into context, this is Brett’s recollection of that night in a later interview:

“We crashed the party, that was the thing.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt more out of place than that time we performed on The Brits.  It was so ridiculously corporate.  It was kinda like, you know, these snotty little kids getting up there and ripping it up, singing a song about sex in council houses and stuff.  I think that the audience didn’t really know what to make of us.  I just remember finishing the song and just looking at this sort of sea of tuxedoed people…”

Those opening bars to Animal Nitrate have taken their rightful place in my Fave Intros Of All Time, I just love the way it starts...

And as you probably know, they’ve got a new album out in March; from what I've heard so far I'm going to like it too.

* to be repeated Monday 18th Feb.

Monday 11 February 2013

Outsiders of the world unite

He had pale blond hair which hung limply around his ears and down to his shoulders, with an ill-advised straight-across fringe that did little to draw attention away from his huge, hooked nose.  Skinny to the point of bony, I recall that his limbs looked too long for his body and that his fingers looked too long for his hands.  Large feet, too.  Always inside Clarks Wayfarers shoes (we used to call them ‘Cornish Pasties’.  If you know the footwear I mean you'll know why).  They were just visible beneath the hem of his light brown and highly unfashionable flared cords. 

Then there was his voice.  I first met him when we were 16 but, even at 30 (the age he was when I last saw him briefly) it was as if it hadn’t quite broken yet.  It oscillated unpredictably between high and low notes, and it took a while to get used to realising that the variation in octave didn’t actually indicate surprise or fright or any other emotion.  There was just something not quite right with his voicebox which gave him a strange kind of involuntary yodel.

I spent three years in  his company at art college when we were in our teens;  he became one of my best mates there.  I liked him, I felt safe with him, felt like I understood him.  Plus, being shy too, I was comfortable enough with him to really be myself and to not feel inferior or intimidated.   Our friendship was liberating.  We’d frequently go to the town’s record shop at lunchtime and browse through the album racks, I’d take the piss out of the heavy metal LPs he pored over while he laughed at the names of some lesser known bands I searched for.  I won him over to the B52s for a while, though - I remember that.  Like many really shy people who find themselves treated as outsiders, he had a great sense of humour - nicely dry and often wickedly caustic.  And he was the most wonderful artist, the best in the class by a long stretch.  He had an incredible imagination and an amazing talent for difficult perspectives and angles that the rest of us would never even begin to attempt  (in fact I still won’t).  But, the last I heard of him, he was long-term unemployed, long-term single and living alone in a town centre tower block bedsit.  I just don't think he had what it takes to fit.

There’s no punchline to this post, no twist, nor revelation – I don’t even know quite why I started thinking about my old college mate in the first place!  I suppose I was just wondering why it is that some of us feel like ‘outsiders’ (even if in disguise…) and others don’t.   Who decides what the ‘inside’ is?  And who decides what fits in it? 

This is the song I turned him on to.  Funny how you remember these things.
And it still sounds great to me!

Saturday 9 February 2013

Long playing bird

“Well, there’s that Santana album…” I said to Mr SDS this morning, as I pictured the cover to 'Abraxas' in my mind.  We were trying to think of album covers with  birds on them.  No, not that kind of bird.  I know, there are plenty of album covers with those on. And - if you’ve now got the image of the curvaceous naked woman on 'Abraxas' in your head - I’m not talking about, ahem, tits either (but, oh, you knew I had to put a ‘tit’ joke in there somewhere…)   There are plenty of album covers with those on too.  I was thinking of the white dove at her lap, subtley preserving a little of her modesty.

We’ve got this album cover lying around at home; it somehow ended up in our possession without the record itself:-

The artwork is so 1970s.  (Oops, UPDATE: it was released in 1969.)  I like the bold colours and slightly crude drawing style, plus the subject itself, even if it is a rather obviously literal interpretation of the name and could have been a fifth-former’s art class project.  With no vinyl to protect now it has no use - but it could be ornament and may yet end up on the wall, rather than gathering dust, unseen, elsewhere.

Other albums with feathered friends on them?  I'm still racking my birdbrain.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Natural blonde

Puzzled woman to husband as they drive along the motorway, and she notices the big illuminated 'Q' sign ahead of them: "Errr... that's weird... what could that stand for?"

Woman to friend as she opens a pack of wax strips and looks at the sticky coating: "Hmm...what is this stuff ?"

The same woman also responded with complete bewilderment at first when an acquaintance asked her, "How's your week been?".  She had no idea what a weak bean was, nor why she was being asked about one.

This is my hair:

I hope it explains the above.

Monday 4 February 2013

Once upon a time in the West

Dr Pumphrey’s cottage in the small Cornish village of Portscatho was our holiday destination in the early ‘70s.  It was the amiable GP’s* second home, and that must have been quite a rarity back then.  Second-home ownership is something with which I have some issues these days and if you got me started I could rant about it for a whole post - but I don’t intend to at the moment.  Still, whatever I think of the principle of it now, all I knew at the age of eight or nine was that it felt magical to spend a couple of weeks in Summer living in someone else’s house.  Especially one right by the sea.

From street level it looked tiny, but once inside it became Tardis-like; there seemed to be loads of rooms (and, I wished longingly, perhaps some secret ones) leading off from multiple staircases and corridors.  But the best bit was that the bedrooms were downstairs and the kitchen was upstairs, which felt very Alice In Wonderland - plus it had a breakfast bar.  I’d never known such a thing and I was instantly besotted.  Ricicles tasted so much better whilst perched on a high, slender stool at a Scandinavian style pine bench, than at the fold-out table at home sitting on a chair whose vinyl seat stuck to the undersides of my thighs.

Travelling down to Cornwall from Hertfordshire required major, strategic planning - and leaving the house at Ridiculously Early.  My sister and I were ushered out of our warm beds at 4am and, after goodbye kisses with Rudolph and Cleo (the cats), bundled into the back of the car with sleeping bags pulled around us like giant cocoons.  The gentle vibration of the car engine and the way the orange streetlights seemed to blink rhythmically as we passed them lulled us into a strange half-slumber for the first part of the journey, out of our dormant market town and towards London.  With the completion of the M25 still a few years away, we’d drive right through the city, and every so often mum would gently see if we were awake and point out some landmarks, now softly lit by the early, half-hearted sun of an August dawn.  I’m sure we made some odd detours to get close-up views of the futuristic-looking Post Office Tower and the dome of St Paul’s, which looked to me like a gigantic, fossilised blancmange.

It seemed an exotic trip across the Southern half of England.  After the high-rises and majestic bridges of the metropolis we traversed the mellow countryside of Berkshire, Hampshire and Wiltshire.  As the hours passed along with the miles it felt like we were crossing into other countries, with their houses made of stone, bricks and tiles of unfamiliar shades, and unrecognised place names.  On through Somerset, then Devon…even the skies looked different above these unknown hills and moors.  It took all day to get there and our final destination seemed the most foreign of all; Cornwall really was another world.

I’d never seen lanes so narrow, nor hedges so high.  Steep distant cliffs gave promise of secret coves and story-book adventures of hidden treasure, whilst the sea itself seemed bigger, wilder and far, far bluer than the one I’d seen before in the South East.

My memory is playing tricks with me.  If I believed it, I would tell you that I spent every day, from sunrise to sunset, down at Gerrans Bay amongst the rock pools, because that’s what it felt like.  I realise we must have gone to other places, and I guess sometimes the sun didn’t shine, and we must have sat in the car with cans of Cola, eating hardboiled eggs when picnic plans were called off due to rain.  But all I can really vividly remember is going down to the rock pools with my bucket and spending endless hours there, finding tiny prawns and blennies, furtive hermit crabs and fantastic anemones, exotic-looking shells, slimy seaweed and pretty pebbles, the sand between my toes and the salt in my hair.  These were all  things we just didn’t have in my world back home.  Then it was back to the topsy turvy cottage every evening, and the hope of still discovering a hidden room. 

Although it’s over ten years since my last visit, I have been back to Portscatho a few times.  Dr Pumphrey’s cottage was there, exactly as I remembered it.  I couldn’t help hoping it still had the breakfast bar, and that somewhere, in a secret room, there is a small collection of shells left there by a young girl in 1972.

* My mum did private typing work for Dr Pumphrey and he let us use his holiday home for free.  What a nice man.

Friday 1 February 2013

All together now

I try not to think about the future very much.  I’ve got to be honest, I find it a little scary and it’s a fairly pointless thing to get depressed about because there’s nothing I can do about its imminent arrival.  Every now and then, though, I catch a glimpse of my mum when I look at my reflection in the bathroom mirror, and I realise that I really am quite old.  And getting older. 

One of the things that worries me slightly, if I let it, is the thought of spending any of my geriatric years in a care home.  It’s not the idea of a residential institution itself that bothers me the most, it’s the concept of being in the enforced company of others with whom I wouldn’t normally choose to spend any time.  Being permanently around people whose interests and attitudes are very different from mine I would struggle to just be myself.

Who might there be to chat to about obscure music?  About the youth cults of our formative years?  About similar comedy, books, art and films?  What if everybody else reads The Sun and wants to talk about Queen Kate’s latest dress and how they don’t like foreigners?  I don’t want to find myself swooning with incomparable delight because someone’s offered me a chocolate digestive (‘New recipe! Extra creamy chocolate!’), I want to be able to feel excited at something a little more edgy.   I don’t want to talk about the way the wallpaper matches the carpet oh so nicely, or how much Mrs Donnelly’s granddaughter’s new baby weighs.  I want to talk about how amazing spiders are, or what people thought about Bill Hicks, or why Never Mind The Bollocks still sounds good….

Which leads me to… what will the sing-songs and arthritic knees ups (knees-not-ups?) of our future be like?  There won’t be any "Pack up your troubles in your old kitbag”s or “My old man said follow the van”s any more, will there?  What will our generation be warbling away to in weary unison as an overworked assistant brings the tea and biscuits in before our afternoon nap?  Now that’s the bit that’s really getting to me. What if everyone wants to sing ‘The Lady In Red’ or ‘Wonderful Tonight’?  I don’t think I could take it.   So… do you reckon we could make a little deal, lovely readers?  If we all end up in a care home somewhere some day, can we make sure it’s the same one?

My favourite rendition of a favourite Smiths song.
I want to be like Doris.
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