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
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