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 ;-)

Monday 26 August 2013

Number 2

Built in 1967, it was a classic example of a well-designed house from that era.  Spacious, with wide, large-paned windows, it had frosted glass in the front door which was sheltered outside by an open flat-roofed porch.  There were glazed interior doors downstairs, the kitchen was big and square, and the upstairs landing so broad that it could almost have been a room in itself.

I was only three (and a vital half) when we moved in, but some memories of the first few days there remain intact:  the shock discovery of a hole in the corner of my bedroom floor which had to be fixed by the builders before the carpet could go down, and Mimi’s anxiety at being in a strange place for the first time.  Poor thing shat in a kitchen cupboard, but at least she didn’t use the hole in my bedroom floor. Mimi was the cat, by the way.

Soon after we moved in my mum put her design stamp on the place:  parquet flooring under three matching squirly-patterned rugs in vivid shades of green and yellow, the cylindrical linen lampshades on sculpted clay bases, and her own framed oil painting of a sunflower on the wall opposite a print of Picasso's Blue Nude.

The living room curtains were an exotic shiny gold, and the kitchen curtains - I’d have those kitchen curtains now if I could.  They were wonderfully 1960s, with scratchy black line illustrations of domestic objects – kettles and teapots and vases, I think – against a textured, copper colour background.  Gorgeous.  On every flat surface downstairs there were ceramics, wood-carvings, sculptures and pot plants, and the focal point in the corner was a Monstera that was taller than my dad.  Mind you, he was only three foot eight.  (No, no!  He was nearly six foot.)

There was a rather exciting cupboard under the stairs.  Well, it was exciting when I hid in it – horrendously scary when I accidentally got shut in it.   It smelt of polish, and at various times over the years it housed a stringless violin, a cricket bat and some badminton racquets, the powder-blue upright vacuum cleaner, my mum’s honey coloured camel-hair coat, a dusty bottle of Cointreau (no idea why) which I'd sometimes go in the cupboard to secretly open and sniff, my sister’s long black PVC platform boots, and my navy blue anorak with its narrow decorative trim.  We had a groovy coat rack on the inside of the cupboard door (which I took with me when I moved out, having transformed the spheres into eyeballs with my paintbrush.)  I think you can buy repro ones now.

I can picture the wallpaper in my bedroom, with its repeated motif of large bright poppies, primroses and violets.  They were comforting, familiar images, like floral guardians, watching over me kindly as I looked up at them when I was ill, which as a child I frequently seemed to be.  Later my pride and joy on that wall was a big colourful map of the world.  Later still it was a poster of Donny Osmond.  And then a Paul Simonon centrefold. And then a wonderful Nosferatu film poster, a picture of Lydia Lunch and an article on Bauhaus from the NME, etc. You get the idea.  The only permanent adornments to that wall were the hard, dry remains of the Blutac.

The one problem with that room was the carpet.  My parents had thriftily decided to re-use some from the old house; it was a dark shade of red, with harsh black linear patterns.  I suppose mum thought it picked out the scarlet of the poppies on the wallpaper but  I hated the colour.  I also had a – fairly understandable – phobia about decapitation after I’d seen something on the telly about Henry VIII and the Elizabethan penchant for beheading, and I started having terrible nightmares about heads being chopped off, which somehow linked themselves to the dark claret carpet.  There was no doubt in my mind that it was red from the blood, the blood from the headless bodies.  If I could have changed one thing it would have been that, erm, bloody carpet.   

In my teens I did get the chance to change it and opted unwisely, in that typical folly-of-youth way, for a pale cream one,which didn’t fare too well under the frequent spillage of green nail varnish, various lurid hues of eye shadow, hot cigarette ash and crisps.  At least my make-up stains didn’t show up quite so much on the bathroom floor which, by the seventies, had been changed from grey lino to purple carpet tiles.  These went well with the dark purple wall, but not so tastefully with the pink suite.  At the same time, my sister painted her bedroom in contrasting shades of lime green and chocolate brown, which set off her Ché Guevara and Black Sabbath posters beautifully.  And mum hired Mr Dunstan to decorate all the downstairs walls in a fetching shade of mustard.  I don’t think there was any such thing as subtlety in the seventies.

I’m always dreaming about that house, so vivid is its feel, so deeply entrenched in my subconscious;  but I was set off on today’s particular mental visit when I heard about a tip from a creative writing course for exercising your mind and visualisation technique.  The suggestion was to think back to a house where you spent a lot of time in your childhood, and slowly imagine you’re entering the front door and going around all the rooms, taking in all the details.  It’s amazing what it unearths - I recommend it! And I so want those kitchen curtains, I just never appreciated them at the time.

Friday 23 August 2013

No milk today

There are three pints of milk in the fridge right now – and they’re in proper glass bottles.  Here’s one of them.

100 Years On The Doorstep?  Cue some joke about finding it’s turned into cheese.  Only I wouldn’t tell it because it would be too…. cheesy.

Still, it’s pretty amazing to have a Milkman these days, they must be a dying breed.  If you’re of a certain vintage like me you may remember waking to that whining of a milk float coming down your street, and the rather pleasingly comfortable clinking of bottles.  In the cool mist of a dark early morning the sound of  Mr Unigate’s footsteps seemed to echo around the houses, as did his quiet cough.  He always coughed.  Must’ve been the damp.

You probably also recall a Benny Hill single that you knew was a little bit rude but you didn’t know quite why, and the compulsory drinking from miniature bottles at school when you were five.  That school milk was, of course, warm and tasted of sick in Summer, but almost knocked your (milk) teeth out and gave you an ice cream headache in Winter.   Mind you, at least I found out from my one week of being a Milk Monitor that I was never going to be cut out for a managerial role.  I would’ve poured mine – and my friend’s – down the sink if I hadn’t been scared of some unspeakable punishment for such lawlessness.  You HAD to drink your milk.

Later there were Humphreys.  'Watch Out, Watch Out, There’s A Humphrey About'.  I can’t really remember what that was all about now, yet still that bloody catchphrase has lodged itself in my brain amongst all the other useless items that store themselves there without my conscious intervention. (Like, our very first telephone number - 4260.  Only four digits! - and the German word for 'bra' and, well, there are loads of other things too but of course now that I want to think of them, I can’t.)   Anyway, yes, you had to watch out as there were Humphreys about trying to steal your milk, and yet bluetits still got the blame for pinching the cream from the tops of the bottles on your doorstep.

After a gap of several decades, we’ve got a Milkman again.  I still like waking to that sound of clinking bottles, along with his quiet footsteps, although I don’t think I’ve ever heard him cough and his float doesn’t whine.  We’ve had him for some time now but I’ve yet to see him; however, I know his name is Dan because he leaves us a Christmas card every year.  He comes in all weathers too, like some invisible superhero.  It's hard not to picture him as more Milk Tray Man than Milkman, grasping that bottle of semi-skimmed so provocatively in his black leather gloves, but I suspect he’s a bit of an Ernie in reality.  The fastest Milkman in the... East. 

Too bad then that in the last few weeks I seem to have developed a bloody lactose intolerance!  I'm right off the stuff....

The Nomads: Milk Cow Blues

Wednesday 14 August 2013

Ted Leo and a band close to home

I may be biased, but “strive to survive causing least suffering possible” has to be one of the best maxims for life that there is.  You just can’t fault it.  Without realising quite what a lasting impact it would have on many people, anarcho-punk band Flux of Pink Indians chose these words for the title of their seminal album. I shared my roots with members of FoPI in our small local punk scene of the late '70s (a Hertfordshire market town's equivalent to the Bromley Contingent!) and was especially close to them at the time when they recorded it and first showcased the ‘Strive...’ set at gigs up and down the country.  So it really warms my heart when I hear that their 1983 release is still often referred to with reverence by fans old and new around the world.  Bands like Flux and Crass may not provide the kind of music I'd actively choose to listen to so much now - at least not for its own sake - but perhaps that's partly because I was just so immersed in it all at the time.  And because I'm not quite such an angry young thing any more ;-)   

Anyway, about 6 or 7 years ago a very cool friend introduced me to the music of US band Ted Leo & the Pharmacists and I was immediately struck by their accessible, anthemic, punk/power-pop/ska/rock sound and Ted’s heartfelt vocals, all of which tick the right boxes for me now.  Songs like ‘Me and Mia’ and ‘Where Have All The Rude Boys Gone?’ are well worth a listen if you’re not already familiar – and their general melodic-with-an-edge style sometimes makes me think of early Jam.  I also knew that Ted Leo was a prolific and renowned song-writer as well as a man of integrity, unafraid of coming at things from a political angle.   Ok, so now you may be thinking: what’s that got to do with Flux of Pink Indians and ‘Strive To Survive Causing Least Suffering Possible’?

Well, apart from the fact that I like it as a typically strong, catchy track in its own right, I was just amazed to hear a certain reference in the lyrics of ‘Ativan Eyes’ from Ted's 2010 album 'Brutalist Bricks’.  When I first listened to this and heard him sing "We strive to survive causing least suffering possible - the Flux of Pink Indians gave me words for that"  (around 2 mins 9 seconds in) I couldn't believe it.  I know it probably doesn't mean a lot to anyone else but it means a lot here!  Boy, is my heart warm now :-)

Ted Leo & the Pharmacists:  Ativan Eyes

(A special 30th anniversary edition of FoPI's ‘Strive...’ with extra tracks, including the live set from the Feeding of the 5000 gig at Shepherds Bush Empire 2007, is released on One Little Indian 2nd September 2013...)

Saturday 10 August 2013

Desert island discs

I’ve a compulsive ambition to become fluent in French so I’ve been going to weekly classes for a few years.  I love language and need to keep learning stuff to exercise my flabby brain cells whose only other regular work-out comes when I compile shopping lists.  So, studying French feels good.  Ironically I’ve only been to France twice and neither trip was for pleasure.  The first time was to visit an oil tanker, of all things, where the most exotic moments were when mingling with engineers in oily boiler-suits, and the second time was spent holed up with some English colleagues in a homogeneous airport hotel, where engineers in oily boiler-suits would have been a welcome distraction.  Still, one of these days I’ll pack my beret and Breton top into my valise and attempt to break the world record for running down the Louvre.

Most of the year, in my small, informal French class, we learn the rules and complexities of tense and grammar.  But in Summer the structure changes and we just chat.  From the first “Ça va?” to the last “Au revoir!” we don’t speak a word of English and it’s a brilliant way to practise.  After 75 minutes of metaphorical running on the spot I’m almost thinking in French, even if it’s just a baby-talk version.  To help us focus, we’re given a specific topic for each session and the chance to prepare in advance.  Subjects have included ‘food’, ‘a favourite piece of art’, ‘something new you learned this year’, that kind of thing.   In the last few weeks I’ve ended up discussing Don Powell from Slade losing his sense of smell and caterpillars (but not at the same time).  It’s a great way to learn new vocabulary and my thumbs get a good work-out too as they leaf through the French dictionary to find the words for drummer and cocoon, etc.  And should I ever find myself in conversation with a French person about ‘70s bands from the Midlands or insect larvae, I’ll be well equipped.

Anyway, the next topic is ‘Desert Island Discs’.  At first I was really excited - wow, a chance to talk about my favourite bands / records! – but now the lesson looms closer and I haven’t got a clue how to tackle it.  For a start I don’t know how to narrow it down to just a handful of tracks.  I’ve never tried to compile a DID list before; I don’t have anything definitive in mind and my aural preferences tend to change week by week.  I know that the purpose of the exercise here is not really to demonstrate one’s impeccable musical taste, but still there’s something inside me that feels compelled to make meaningful choices.  If I’m going to talk about them in French, then it seems only right that I should also be able to talk about them with passion.

Where to begin?  How do I narrow down several decades’ worth of listening to just eight songs?  Eight songs that I’d want to hear whilst going slowly insane, looking out to a tropical sea, sipping coconut milk and hallucinating about talking conch shells? Would I want to hear 'London Calling' to remind me of grey English skies, city fumes and a misspent youth?  Yet would it be unwise to take some Saint Etienne in case I accidentally trod on a scorpion whilst dancing naked in the sand to their irresistible rhythms?  And would Morrissey remind me of just how lonely I was in this godforsaken hell-hole prison cell of an island paradise?  Or would Suede find me slowly turning into a man as the combination of a Brett Anderson obsession and the nuclear fallout from secret tests on a nearby atoll caused me to grow unexpected appendages?  

And then there’s the book and the luxury item as well!  This is harder than learning French! 

Friday 9 August 2013

Idle doodles / reverse anthropomorphism II

A few more ridiculous sketches.  Last time I got carried away in a brief idle moment and a small handful of creatures were turned into strange women (or was it the other way around?); today it was the men's turn... Mr Sheep.  You can't pull the wool over his eyes.

And young Mr Batt, who's a fan of The Twilight Saga.

Fancy a hairy hug from Mr Bear?

Lastly Mr Jay (who doesn't seem to know it's rude to stare).  Don't ruffle his feathers.

Aarghh.  Sorry.

Have a great weekend.

Tuesday 6 August 2013

More from Frendz, Feb 1972

Adverts that caught my eye - something from Milos Forman, before he directed One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and more:

And apparently the Blackheath Foot'N'Death Men, who appeared at 'a nasty ball' advertised below, were hairy, freak, counter-culture Morris Dancers:

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