Thursday 28 March 2013

Tee hee

(Something from the archives!)

“You look like you’ve just seen a ghost!”

Punk Rocker!”

“Who’s your hairdresser, love?  I’ll have a word with ‘em…”

“Just had an electric shock?”

Johnny Rotten!”

“Punky monkey!” (?)

(those were the polite comments)

Monday 25 March 2013

Jesus Christ '70s Superstar

My upbringing was secular, just as my life is now; we didn’t have a bible in the house and nobody went to church.  That isn’t to say that God was never mentioned, his name did come up occasionally as a useful way to explain those incidents that are difficult for very young children to understand.  For instance, when it thundered my mum would say, “God is moving his furniture around” and I was happy with that rationalisation.  (I think I've mentioned that before here... sorry!)  Also, because we were taught about Christianity at primary school my young and open mind was quite content to accept that there was some higher being in charge of all the important things like growing trees and making clouds.  He even answered my prayer once after I’d joined the Brownies.  I was just settling into my team, the Imps, when Brown Owl said there were going to be some changes and I would have to move to another team, the Elves.  I really didn’t want to be an Elf (the little Imp on the sew-on patch was perky looking and yellow - far preferable to that dull blue Elf) so I did something I’d never done before: I prayed for help.  I prayed really hard and I may even have knelt by my bed like the people I’d seen in cosy picture books.  The following week Brown Owl said that I could stay an Imp after all.  I put it all down to God and thanked him profusely that night for making time for me in his busy schedule.

Whatever your religious bent may be (and you know I accept / respect you whichever way!) I hope you’ll understand why it seemed to me that the early ‘70s were a good time for Jesus.  Being into Jesus was almost akin to being into some kind of musical cult as far as I could tell.  Long hair, sandals, singing, wearing big crucifixes, talking about love and peace… it all stacked up.  Religion seemed quite trendy for a while.  My sister got in (very briefly) with a crowd of Baptist hippies and there was some churchy youth club place where they hung out to play music, tap tom-toms and get off with each other.  It was a happy place and it appeared kinda cool.

And then there was Jesus Christ, Superstar.  The album, in all its yellow, (deep) purple and red laminated cover gatefold glory, was in the family record collection, alongside Holst’s Planet Suite, 2001 A Space Odyssey, and some Erik Satie.  That was how classy it seemed.  It had Ian Gillan* on it, whom my sister fancied; I remember the lovely picture of him on the inside, he was just as I liked to imagine the Jesus they talked about at school.  And there was a sweet photo of Yvonne Elliman, who I wanted to look like.  I recall overhearing a conversation between my sister and my mum about her character, Mary Magdalene.  “Apparently she was a prostitute…” my mum had said.  It sounded a very important, serious, grown-up word and I really couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t explain to me what it meant when I asked.

I played that album a lot and then one day it was decided that we’d go and see the live show of it in London for my sister’s birthday treat.  We had a meal in the city too, at a Berni Inn if I remember rightly (everything was dark brown).  I had an omelette and a banana split.  I’d never had a banana split before and I loved it.  Then we went off to the theatre and watched the performance, which I thought was great although it didn’t have Ian Gillan or Yvonne Elliman in it.  But whoever the stars were that night, they were attractive, long-haired and cool.  Just like those hippies I’d occasionally see around my home-town in their cheesecloth shirts and maxi skirts.

I was reminded of the show some years ago when I was working in a large office and one of my colleagues started telling me about the time she went to see it.  She’d got hold of some tickets through work and when she settled herself in to her seat she realised she recognised the man next to her.  She was racking her brains to think why she knew him and then it dawned on her, of course – he must have bought a ticket through work too, that’s where she knew him from.  During the interval she smiled and introduced herself, “I know you, don’t I?” she asked, “You work at C.R.!”  The man looked a bit puzzled, then laughed.  “No – but you might recognise me anyway,” he replied.  “I’m Paul Nicholas”…

I don’t think it was Paul Nicholas in the ‘70s production that I went to, but I enjoyed it immensely at the time and then when I saw the posters for ‘Hair’ I was really into the idea of going along to see that too, especially if I could have another banana split in a Berni Inn as part of the deal.  I never did understand why I wasn’t allowed to go, at least not until I was a bit older and after I’d learned a few other things too (like the meaning of the word ‘prostitute’).

Now, I don’t have a religious bone in my body, I can’t stand Andrew Lloyd Webber, and I couldn’t listen to it now for any other reason than for a brief blast of nostalgia, but I still have a fond memory of playing that double album all the way through as a kid and thinking that at least that hippie Jesus guy seemed to be a very nice man.  He couldn’t half sing well on ‘Child In Time’ too.

* I didn’t realise at the time that other contributors to this album included Mike D’Abo, Chris Spedding, Murray Head and Lesley Duncan….

Saturday 23 March 2013

Cold comforts

It's a bit cold, isn’t it?

Aarghh.  Horrible, horrible cold.  Wind biting through your bones type cold.  Wearing thermal socks in bed type cold (I couldn't cope without them).  I’m so bored of it now.  

The only good thing about it as far as I’m concerned is the profusion of birds it brings into the garden.  For the first time we have a lot of  siskins here.  The huge number of sightings in gardens is a bit of a phenomenon this Winter, apparently.  If you’re a bird-nerd like me you may enjoy this time lapse film of the activity around some feeders (not mine)...  (Although, it has to be said that there isn't much of a plotline!)

...and some siskins viewed through my shedio window this morning.  Snow too.

Not as many siskins in our garden as in the film, but plenty of bluetits, one of which I’ve been keeping an eye on because he has an unusual deformity which has caused his beak to grow to a freakish length.  It’s about an inch long, maybe more.  (You can see/read more about this condition here.) Cyrano (I had to give him a name, of course) has adapted brilliantly by tilting his head on the side to pick up seed or fat fragments from the ground as he can’t use the feeder, he then takes them to an upright branch which he pins them against with his improbably long bill, meaning he can eat side-on too.  I’m impressed.

At least the birds stay outside, unlike the tiny baby bank vole which I found in the kitchen the other day.  I only knew he was there by a weird chattering, clicking sound – I had no idea what the noise was and followed it quizically like a sniffer dog following a scent, to find a rather exhausted looking ball of fur in a corner.  I don’t know how he got in although we’ve had mice getting trapped in the cavity wall before; we only knew about that when the whiff of roasted rodent wafted in from behind the radiator pipes.    This little vole did look pretty traumatised, probably from climbing over those old mouse remains behind the wall,  the horror of their fates petrified forever like the victims of Pompeii (or so I imagine).  Anyway, he didn’t move much so I was able to pick him up, then popped him under a plant outside and when I checked later he’d gone.   I like to think that Ma vole came and fetched him (aww), giving him a whiskery hug but then squeaking sternly, “I told you NOT to go off on your own!  Where’ve you been?” although I realise it’s possible that he may just have become elevenses for the neighbour’s podgy cat.

                                                              Not the same vole... but cute or what?

Then there are the even smaller intruders.  As I let the washing-up water drain away this morning I noticed something kinda leggy in the bottom of the sink…  you’ve guessed it, yes: a spider.  Well, I’m ok with spiders and this one was particularly clean as well (covered in Fairy Liquid bubbles) so I scooped her up on a piece of kitchen roll and took her outside too.  She looked limp and lifeless, and I didn’t hold out much hope but an hour or so later she started moving again and then crawled softly away (it seems that legs that do dishes can be soft as your face… I bet she smelt all fresh and lemony too).  That made me happy.

I was less happy, however, when I pulled back the duvet last night to get into bed.  (If you're easily  freaked out, you may want to skip this bit...) I like to entwine my legs with another’s as much as you probably do, but two legs will suffice.  Not eight.  He was on the underside of the duvet, if you please, and if a spider could look as if it had just been caught doing something it shouldn’t, then this one did.  I know it’s freezing out there but come on, they’re supposed to be used to this kind of thing – next you know they’ll be moaning about cold feet.  And that’s a lot of thermal bed socks to get.

Sunday 17 March 2013

This was my sound of the suburbs

On 13th November 1979 John Peel opened his radio show with this song...

The Epileptics were home-grown punk heroes in the small market town where I spent my formative years.  Before they’d even played a single gig, their name, logo and rather inspired slogan, 'smash guitar solos', had become a common sight on walls and hoardings around the locale. 

I’m quite pleased to be able to say that I was there for their very first live outing in August ’78, which was rather oddly on a Saturday afternoon as it was part of an all-day punk event at the town's regular music hang-out.  They looked a motley bunch (and not a spikey haircut in sight).   There was a pixie-faced lad with shoulder-length hair on guitar (he left the band soon after) and as their bassist was on holiday they’d drafted in Steve Drewett from the Newtown Neurotics (as the Neurotics were called, pre-Red Wedge).  At that time his blonde barnet was long and curly making him look a little bit like Ian Hunter from Mott The Hoople, especially with the tinted specs he wore.  I remember theirs being a short and endearingly shambolic set, with the nice-looking skinhead drummer attempting to do fancy twirls with his sticks and frequently dropping them.   Looking back, I don’t know quite how their charismatic singer managed to deliver the lyric, “I wanna give you a sixty-nine” with a straight face, but he did.

The Epileptics went on to gain a certain amount of notoriety in our neck of the woods, particularly when the vocalist tried to swing from one of the light fittings whilst on stage which got them banned from the venue for a while, and then when complaints were levelled against them from the British Epilepsy Association about the name.   It was never intended at all to offend anyone suffering from epilepsy, but it’s a good example of that ‘shockability’ crossed with naïvete which seemed just a natural part of that whole early punk thing.  The label who issued their first single weren’t happy about the name, though, and for a short while they became The Licks, which is how they were introduced on the Peel show.

Nearly thirty-four (thirty-fucking-four!!!) years later this track still sounds good to me (of course): energetic, catchy, fresh, a little rough around the edges and, perhaps most poignantly, forever frozen in its own decade by the lyrics “1970’s…” 

Ahh.   Even though school was a pain at the time, these were amongst the happiest days of my life and I have hugely fond memories of many nights out at my local music haunt watching this band just get better and better.  The drummer even stopped dropping his sticks.

NB - The Epileptics later evolved into Flux Of Pink Indians.  There were several line-up changes and they released three very different albums, but their first, ‘Strive To Survive Causing Least Suffering Possible’  is the one to remember them by.

Friday 15 March 2013

A book in the making

At the moment I’m working on a lovely picture book for an Australian publisher and it’s an absolute pleasure.  Unfortunately there are no all-expenses-paid trips Down Under to do the research but it’s such an enjoyable mental excursion anyway to be playing around on paper with a baby kangaroo, echidna, platypus and more.  (It’s usually bears and rabbits.)  I'm throwing in a few gum trees too, of course.

My favourite part of developing illustrations is when I’m working in pencil.  I adore pencil and often wish I could submit the drawings as finished pieces instead of having to re-work them in paint.  I find the painting part is always a bit heart-in-mouth and trying to replicate exactly, and permanently, what I'd previously drawn in lovely, smudgeable, eraseable lead, is never quite as carefree.  To my mind, they're never as fresh.  But people are only ever going to see the colour pieces in a published book and all of these preliminary works, which accumulate into mountains of paper all over my desk, will never get shown in their own right.  I thought I’d just give some pencil character sketches a little airing here. 

I’m also 'rehearsing' this week for another talk about this whole illustration process which I've been booked to do next Wednesday.  Aarghhh!  It’s over a year since I gave the last one – my first – so all that confidence and excitement I eventually built up from doing it has evaporated again.  I’m trying not to get too stressed, though, and at least I know I can manage it now.  Even though it means presenting it this time with what appears to be a cracked rib!

Have a good weekend.

Images copyright C / Sun Dried Sparrows

Wednesday 13 March 2013

The borrowers

                                                                   The resemblance is uncanny

I wasn’t sure what to make of Mr Parsons at first.  One thing I could rely on was that he would come in to the library, where I worked every Sunday, at exactly the same time each week.   Another thing was that he always wore a long grey mac, no matter what the weather, and spent an hour or two using the internet on the library’s one public computer, taking brief breaks to pick out books about war.  There were days when he was almost the sole visitor; the place was so small and quiet that it only needed one member of staff there at a time, so it could be lonely.  For a few years I was its ‘Sunday Girl’.

First impressions of Mr Parsons being a slightly creepy old man (he did have a habit of glancing furtively at the area between my collarbone and ribs when talking to me) were soon replaced by the realisation that he was rather nice and completely harmless.  We had some interesting, intelligent chats about language; he was a retired English teacher.  Funny how you remember odd things but he was the one who taught me that you pronounce the ‘ch’ in ‘machinations’ with a ‘k’ sound and not a ‘sh’ sound.  (At the library, I mean - he didn’t teach me at school.)  By the way, I’ve no idea what we were talking about for me to use the word ‘machinations’  Anyway, over time I quite looked forward to him being around for a natter as the library often felt bleak on a dark Winter afternoon with no-one else about, and I was convinced there was a ghost in the store cupboard.  Mr Parsons took a bit of a shine to me but without making me feel uncomfortable; I think partly because he was very predictable.  A pleasant enough friendship developed between us and when he found out that I couldn’t take lunch breaks he started to bring me cakes wrapped in clingfilm.  My delight must have been such that he continued this habit until the day I left and each week I would be ceremoniously presented with two Almond Slices or Viennese Whirls (he must have had a thing for Mr Kiplings) which I consumed voraciously.  Bless him.

Actually, he wasn’t the only customer to let me eat cake.  Sometimes G, one of my neighbours, would return huge piles of books on behalf of his mother and stop for a chat too.  He's a lovely chap who used to own a record shop in London, helped me to rescue a dove from our chimney and once had a pet pigeon called Percy (who would sit at his feet like a dog).   When he found out I was leaving he came in to the library on my last day there and gave me an Iced Finger. It was as if I had a sign around my neck saying ‘Feed Me’

Not that Mr Gatewood ever gave me cake.  He’d always come in about ten minutes before I was due to close up and I couldn’t help but keep glancing very obviously at my watch whilst he deliberated over the autobiographies.  He had an old-fashioned moustache and always wore a peaked cap (to this day I have no idea what his hair is like).  Bicycle clips held his tweed trousers in so that they looked a bit like plus-fours, and somehow the overall effect was like that of a Victorian gent.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if his mode of transport (which he carefully wheeled in and left in the library’s cloakroom) had been a Penny Farthing.  Softly spoken with a rather shy, almost nervous manner, it surprised me when I  found out that his nickname was ‘The Terminator’ He looked nothing like Arnie... but his job as a Community Police Officer with a passion for dishing out parking tickets had earned him the name, particularly when it came to light that in the space of 11 years he’d issued 11,000 tickets.  His zero-tolerance approach became infamous, making local news headlines and later even prompting a Facebook campaign.  But the ridicule and resistance he met from some members of the public was like water off a duck’s back when he had his uniform on and was strutting proudly around the streets on a mission.  I have to say, he was always sweet to me but, then again, I wasn’t parking on double yellow lines.  I guess the Almond Slice crumbs round my mouth may have endeared me to him too.

Always smiling and quite often just a little tipsy was the lovely Maxine.  “Hello daaarlin’!” she’d call from the doorway as she made her slightly wobbly entrance.  “I’m sorry, I’m a bit pissed!”    The days she popped in to the library coincided with  her family’s Sunday lunches down the pub, where the wine had obviously been flowing freely.  A short, buxom blonde of a certain age, Maxine was well-known in the village and when she got a job in our little Post Office she was a breath of fresh air compared to the more staid staff we were used to. She flirted delightfully with all the customers and made her rather fussy and officious boss despair when she couldn’t press the right numbers on one of those keypad machines because her red-painted nails were too long.   But she was really on the ball and quickly learned everything there was to know about sending parcels to Outer Mongolia or anywhere else for that matter.  Everyone liked Maxine.

There were plenty of other characters too whom I won’t go into here, although it is hard to forget the pretty but broken alchoholic woman who poured her life story out to me one day and her daughter who, in spite of being only eleven, had become the responsible adult in that relationship.  Very tragically the mother was found dead in her flat just a year or so later; she was only in her early forties.  I often wonder what happened to the daughter; I hope she’s ok.

I don’t miss the job, but I do quite miss the interaction with so many different people whom I wouldn’t normally have met. There was probably enough material there to inspire a book.

Saturday 9 March 2013

Starling, I love you

Do you ever watch ‘Countdown’?  Tempting though it might seem for someone who works from home to watch a lot of daytime TV, I rarely even turn the box on before 7.30pm.  However, last week I heard that Chris Packham was on the popular words and numbers game show so, as a long-term fan of his, I thought I’d catch a couple of episodes.

I’m also a fan of Susie Dent.  I decided a while ago that, contrary to her rather demure and bookish exterior, she is a filthy-minded and possibly quite kinky little minx.  (I could be wrong of course, but she does have a penchant for talking about the more scandalous origins of words and with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. )   For this (speculative!!) reason alone I like her enormously. Add to that her obvious thirst for knowledge and enthusiasm for language, along with her gentle modesty, and it makes for a pretty appealing combination as far as I’m concerned.   I am straight, by the way...  but, still.

I digress…. What was really lovely about Chris Packham’s guest spot was that Dictionary Corner focused on words with wildlife connections, in particular birds. Chris Packham, Susie Dent, words AND birds?  What a wonderfully heady mix!  And in the middle of the afternoon too!  The only thing missing was some rock’n’roll… but in a way that was there also, what with Chris’ well-known music credentials and punk past. 

Anyway, I watched a little of Wednesday’s edition and learned something which will stick in my mind, and that was about starlings. 

I know a lot of people aren’t keen on starlings (they always get labelled as ‘greedy’ – which seems a very anthropomorphic judgement of a wild creature’s natural survival instincts) but I have a real fondness for this characterful species.  They’re intelligent and resourceful birds, with perky and feisty personalities (or whatever the equivalent is for birds, I realise that sounds anthropomorphic too), but - and this is something I've known about for a while - their population in the UK has been in shocking decline for the last few decades.  In fact, it's down by 80% since 1979 and they are currently considered to be at serious risk.   Our garden is full of many different breeds of birds at most times of the year but I’ve seen significantly fewer starlings in the last six months than ever before.  Now when I see just two or three come in to feed I really welcome their noisy, skittish presence.

At this time of year, the starling’s plumage is quite different to its sleek, black-with-rainbow-tint feathers of Spring and Summer.  In Winter there is little iridescence: instead the plumage is dark with numerous white speckles.  Hundreds and hundreds of speckles… like millions of stars in a night sky, perhaps…? 

And so, as the lovely Susie Dent explained, one possibility for the origin of the name starling is that it was inspired by this appearance, derived from the Anglo-Saxon word for ‘star’ (‘stœr’ ? – not sure about the spelling!)    I thought this was such a picturesque and rather romantic way to name a bird (and so much more imaginative than ‘blackbird’…), I'll always remember it now. 

I've just looked out of the window to watch a pair of sturnus vulgaris and all I can see is the pure beauty of a starlit sky in their wings. 

Thursday 7 March 2013


I had such a great, feelgood dream last night and it’s stayed with me all day, you know how some can.  Brett Anderson was texting me Suede videos.  I watched them on my phone and then looked across a crowded room and he was there watching me watching him.  Weird!  But very nice.

Maybe it had something to do with listening to ‘A New Morning’ earlier in the evening, and falling in love with Astrogirl...

Tuesday 5 March 2013

Abstract moment of the week #3

A cautionary tale: getting undressed may seriously damage your health.

I don’t normally have a problem with taking my clothes off (if you see what I mean) but last night the procedure nearly ended up in a trip to A&E.

You may or may not want to picture this.

I’m in the bedroom, halfway through disrobing –  standing by the bed as I'm slipping out of my jeans when, somehow, don’t ask me how, but there was a socked-foot-gets-tangled-up-in-trouser-leg moment and I lose my balance.  Feeling like it’s happening in slo-mo, but completely unable to do a thing about it, I go crashing down.  I go down with such force that Mr SDS feels the floor shake in the adjacent room, and I’m not a big person…

He comes rushing in to find me, sprawled on the carpet in a most ungainly position, naked from the waist up, with my jeans around my ankles and clutching my right breast (the poor thing having taken the full force of the impact against the wooden bedpost…)*  Ouch.

Light duties only for me today.  I'm a little sore!  The bruise on my hip is a nice shade of purple, though.

Still, it did make me think of this song...

                      Pete Burns as I like to remember him, from that brilliant time
                   in the early 1980s when there was so much striking music around
                        getting airplay on John Peel and anything seemed possible.
                     I still think this is a great track - if I can put the image of the
                 post-plastic-surgery Pete out of my mind, and just enjoy the way he
                       sounds here - a bit like Scott Walker backed by the Doors?!

* Is this too much information?

Saturday 2 March 2013

Write here, write now

Partly inspired by the talent of a good friend, I suddenly had an urge the other day to try writing a short story.  I used to write a lot as a kid, and my favourite part of my favourite lesson at school was when we had to write ‘compositions’ in English.  I read a lot too, loads more than I do now, and got so captivated and obsessed by these books that I always wanted to create my own version – be it of Watership Down (with foxes instead of rabbits) or Anne of Green Gables (set in Cornwall) or Stig Of The Dump (‘Dick of the Den’).   I never finished any.

This time a basic plot came into my head, (and I’m not quite sure where from but it’s none of the above) as did the names of the key characters and their backgrounds.  It’s a long while since I’ve written anything straight from the imagination but I thought I’d give it a go.  It’s not that I want to do anything with it, in fact I might never show it to another soul – I’m under no illusion that anyone else would want to read it.  I just wanted to see what would happen.  I knew it would have to be something a little dark, and definitely something quite adult, to contrast with the light-hearted, child-friendly illustrations I work on the rest of the time.

I didn’t know that, once I finally got started (and that was the hardest part…), it would become so all-consuming.  I began yesterday lunchtime and worked on it sporadically throughout the rest of the day.  Then I carried on into the evening, and again into the night, only running out of steam some time past midnight.  I lay in bed, so so tired but unable to sleep, as my brain continued to re-write paragraphs and come up with new ones.  I couldn’t wait to get up and continue with it today, as I have done.  Not that I’ve got very far -  I keep going back, changing bits, retracing my steps, being taken down routes I didn't even realise were there, getting stuck, and re-reading, re-reading, re-reading.  It’s starting to drive me slightly mad and it’s not even a good story.  I’m already feeling completely spaced out by putting myself into this imaginary world, and into the heads of my made-up characters, and I’m only six pages in.  It’s as if the fictional domain has become my actual one, and my real life feels less so!  How the hell do authors do it?

A page from an early (unfinished) 'novel', circa 1975.
A bit angsty. 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...