Tuesday 30 December 2014

On reflektion

I had an unusual looking present to open this Christmas. It was a flattish hexagon of uneven length sides, about a foot long at its greatest diameter. I didn't have a clue what it could be and Mr SDS told me with a serious face that it was “a bugger to wrap up”.  What on earth comes in an irregular six-sided package?  Obviously I didn't think it was going to be a CD that I'd been mentioning in the last few weeks. But, tucked up inside two pieces of very weirdly shaped card....    yes...   a CD. Who'd have thought?!

Also, until recently, there's no way I would even have wanted a CD by this band. I've done this all the wrong way round. You're supposed to like a band when they're obscure, underground, for people with esoteric taste only, aren't you... then when, for some reason or other, they become superstars for the masses, that spells the end.  It happened to me with Adam & the Ants; the band I loved in '78 and '79 was really not the same as the one whose image was later to adorn pencil cases for pre-teens, and of course I could never feel the same love for Prince Charming as I had for, say, Deutscher Girls. Although I've liberated myself from the constraints of youthful cliqueiness (is that a word?) any time I get into a  band or artist there's still a little part of me that retains that secret, horribly snobbish dread that they'll desert our exclusive club and go all stadium instead.

Arcade Fire became superstars, didn't they? They never did anything for me, not even in the early days – I saw them on telly some years back and just thought, “There's too many of them” and I wasn't keen on what seemed to me to be too many instruments and not enough tune. Style over substance, I decided.  So from thereon I ended up sort of dismissing them, and when they became really big that seemed enough reason not to revisit.  Then I saw them on the Glastonbury footage this Summer and something inside me changed. Their performance of Rebellion (Lies) was something to behold and I couldn't take my eyes off them. The song kept going through my head and I realised with some surprise that I really liked it.  And that I liked them. Enough to want to hear some more...

I received Reflektor for Christmas and I love it. Who'd have thought?!

The video for the We Exist courted some controversy at the time and the band were criticised for not using a genuine transgender actor.  I know you  probably already know all that but I'm so late on parade...  I just love this track although it always ends up as 'Black Is Black' in my head.

Friday 26 December 2014

Christmases past

I awoke and something about the backdrop of dark stillness and the early hour of a Christmas morning effortlessly evoked a series of sweet, random memories. Sensory, childhood memories: sounds, tastes, textures, more.  A car slowly driving by triggered them, I think, and although I could only hear it, in my mind I could see it; as if from a high window, peeping through curtains, a car navigating its way gently through a freshly snowed-on road.  The snowsparkles are glinting in headlights like glitter, the sound of the vehicle's tyres muffled. The scene is vivid from under my duvet, uncluttered by conscious thoughts and the distractions of the day to come... it makes me feel cosy, safe. I let it play through in my mind and passively wait for others to join it.

Next the smell and the taste of biscuits. Biscuits in a big jar, from a variety pack; but they've all been put in there together so the tastes have mingled. Chocolate digestives are tinged with strawberry pink wafers, and custard creams infused with the tang of gingernut. No matter, they're creamy and crumbly and more interesting than Rich Tea, even if a little stale. Their softness, that accidental melange of flavours... it's comfortable. It's sugary-tea and paper-bag-of-sherbet-lemons and a Hot Wheels set and black-and-white-telly, home-from-school comfortable.

It's 1972 and I have a (surprise) kitten for Christmas! She's delivered on Christmas Eve, in a big box. I open the lid and reach in to find the sweetest, lightest – feather-light! - fluffiest ball of sleepy kitten softness, all huge ears and round eyes that look just a little too far apart.  Cleo, I call her.  Middle name Olga (after Olympic heroine of the year, Olga Korbut). She's white with black splodges; three big black spots in a line on her tummy look like buttons of coal on a snowman. When she licks my cheek I feel the unexpected raspiness of her tongue and get a faint whiff of pilchard Kitekat. If this nine-year-old child could see into the future she might be surprised to know that Cleo would be with her for the next 19 years.

Then I think of Nanny and Granddad coming to stay, a memory which conjures up more tastes and smells: the floral scent of Nanny's face powder, like talc, and the taste of Granddad's diabetic chocolate (oddly, a treat, just because it was different.) Nanny drinks Guinness and sleeps in the afternoons, Granddad wears a huge gold and black signet ring on one of his fingers, his hands have big yellow knuckles and, sadly, a few too many scabs, from woodworking wounds which don't heal as fast as they should. (I don't like to see the scabs.)  He makes pictures from flat wood pieces, like one of a house all formed from geometric shapes in different shades of brown.  With a steep roof and a large chimney, it's set against a background of chequerboard fields.

This is my Christmas past, locked somewhere in the late sixties and early seventies, a mash-up of moments experienced through senses.  It wasn't actually snowing when that car went past yesterday morning as I lay in bed... although they say it may do tomorrow. I can't wait for the muffled sound of the tyres on the road when it does.

Cleo (cats dig vinyl)

Wednesday 24 December 2014

On Christmas Eve

Wishing you an easy, happy time doing whatever it is that you want to do! 
Merry Christmas. 

The kids just love it when Tiddles plays some Death Cab For Cutie covers

Monday 22 December 2014

Abstract moment of the week #5 (Christmas edition)

Some simple things have made me smile this week...

Kirsty down the Co-op says that her six-year-old daughter only wants two things for Christmas, but she really, really wants them. Not for her a Cupcake Shop pop-up play tent or a Princess Pony pencil case, no.  All she wants for Christmas is a yo-yo and a balloon.  So sweet!

Then I was walking through the quiet village street on Thursday evening when a skinny little Santa came towards me. Full gear, you know: red suit, red hat, white fur trim. I couldn't work out whether it was a boy or girl, but I can tell you that a four foot high Nightmare Before Christmas Santa Jack with white face and blacked out eyes and mouth looks kinda cute in Nike Air Max walking past a chip shop.

And finally here's a song (nothing to do with Christmas) which is currently high on my playlist and this is an abstract moment after all.... but a synthpop version of a classic Bauhaus song for a teen vampire film soundtrack? I don't care! It makes me smile too.

Wednesday 17 December 2014

Uncool for cats

I didn't snog Chris Difford, nor take my top off in front of the cameras, but for years – decades, in fact – you could be forgiven for thinking I had. Those festive pop video shows filled me with a disproportionate sense of dread. I could take any amount of the perennial Slade, Mud and Wizzard clips as long as they never, ever showed 'Christmas Day' by Squeeze.

It's December 1979 and I'm sixteen, self-consciously punky and down in London skiving with three of my male college mates. We spend most of the day in the Kings Road. It's a really damp, foggy day and the once vertical spikes of my peroxide-white hair have gone all floppy. That's the kind of thing that really mattered then, as I'm sure you understand.

We end up at Seditionaries admiring and Viv's behind the counter; we're a little in awe of her. I seem to remember she treated us rather condescendingly and I don't blame her one bit.  But she tells us that some video people are looking for extras to appear in a shoot they're doing at the Molinare Studios in Soho. It'll be good, take a trip down there, she suggests. She's very persuasive, and we're a little drunk. And my hair is all floppy, grrr.

That's how I end up doing the fucking conga in a room full of strangers while free drink in paper cups is handed out along with party hats and Squeeze mime to their terrible Christmas single over and over again. All I remember is knocking back the warm lager and thinking it was really, really uncool to be dancing the conga.  And seeing a woman there with massive tits.

Oh... and that my hair had gone all floppy.  I hated it when my hair went all floppy.  Have I mentioned that before?

Once sober the sheer horror of it all kicked in. I hoped the single would fail miserably and the video would never be shown on Top Of The Pops. I carried this weight around with me for years. Having told Mr SDS about it he could never work out quite why I was so reticent, so embarrassed - why I cringed at the merest thought that one day it might get aired. I think he was convinced that I had snogged Chris Difford or taken my top off in front of the cameras. I started to think I had done so myself, perhaps even both at the same time.

All these years on, YouTube has entered our lives and everything is out there. I might as well get this over with once and for all.  Deep breaths.

The single and the video are awful; no wonder it never charted. But of course I have to watch the whole dire thing through, in case. Self-conscious teenagers, so obviously pulled in off the streets, dance around like idiots; I see a glimpse of white-blonde hair.... nah that's not me. Oh, there's that woman with the tits! Then the conga... oh, the conga... and, you know, I reckon it fades out at the exact moment I was about to come into view.

Saturday 13 December 2014

Seeing double

I was walking down the street yesterday when my close friend L stepped out of a shop and crossed the road in front of me.   Nothing unusual about that, you may think, except that L doesn't live here, nor work here, nor have any reason to travel 50 miles to come here (except to see me in which case she'd have phoned first.)  See, it wasn't L.  But it looked so much like her that I was very slightly freaked out.  Same lovely face, same curly hair, same height, the same walk even, and dressed in clothes I've seen L wear – brown jacket, jeans, long boots. I must have gawped, transfixed; I know I turned my head to let my eyes follow her as she disappeared behind me, all the while thinking, “Is it? Could it be?”

They say that at any one time everyone has a natural lookalike somewhere – a doppelgänger (from the German 'double-goer').  It seems I've had a few over the years; not that long ago I could rarely go into my nearest town without complete strangers greeting me, waving to me across the road, once even stopping to chat before realising I wasn't who they thought I was.  One time I met a man with his young daughter and noticed that he was looking at me with a somewhat disturbed expression (hey, stop whatever it is you're thinking...).  Then when we talked briefly and he studied me with an even more disconcerting intensity, he explained that I was the spitting image of his little girl's mum. I didn't like to ask if she was still around...but it occurred to me that if she wasn't, then it was no wonder my similar face may have been quite haunting for him.  Another time I met an elderly woman who said I looked just like her daughter and that I even had the same mannerisms.  As I tilted my head to the side (that was one of them) and looked closely at the old lady's eyes and the shape of her face, I found there was a familiarity... just something of my mother in her features; I guess that stacks up.  Was it even possible that somewhere along the line, too long ago to track, we shared some ancestral genes?  Or is it just that there aren't really that many varieties of faces to be shared amongst the entire population – I mean, we all fall into types, don't we?

I just hope I never see my own doppelgänger.  For one thing I imagine it would be totally freaky (for both of us) but there's a whole folklore thing connected to it too – it's meant to be an 'omen of death'! In some traditions, seeing the lookalike of a friend or relative is pretty dodgy too and is supposed to signify bad luck, illness or danger.  I think I'll just text L and check she's ok...

Not exactly a Kinks' soundalike

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Who are you calling 'four-eyes'?

Are we all sitting comfortably and wearing our glasses?  Did you put yours on just before you came here, or were you already peering through them?  Or are you half-and-half, looking over the top of them while they're perched further down your nose, like those of a stereotypical imperious head teacher? Perhaps you just need to put them on to read the tiny type on the Branston Pickle jar ('once open keep in the fridge and use within 6 weeks' - it's a pickle for fuck's sake!  We used to keep jars of pickle in the larder that were older than me that never did us any harm...)  Or maybe you've worn your specs daily for years, since childhood, and they're just something you're used to? I'm a varifocal girl these days.

Saturday 29 November 2014

Loving animals

Our local magazine is advertising for volunteers to help show inner city kids about the countryside.  I was moved by the wording: Some of the children arrive not knowing where bread, milk or meat comes from.  Others have never seen the sea or the stars at night.  All learn a great deal from what is sometimes the most fun day they have ever experienced.

Makes me realise just how much I take for granted.  I grew up in a market town, quite old-fashioned perhaps in that it had a 'real' market, for selling livestock, just off the main road not far from home.  Mum used to take me there as a small child - a weekly treat.  There were cows, sheep and pigs every Thursday, in a large enclosed plot on the corner, with rows of pens and corrugated roofs.  It was opposite a big garage which followed the curve of the road (and which has somehow now turned into one of those Fisher Price toy ones in my mind's eye).  Next to it was the old primary school which later became the youth club where I experienced my first kiss.

It might have been on a different day, I can't remember, but up the road a few hundred yards there was a poultry market too.  It was near to the dentist's, where scary Mr Clark pulled out a loose tooth in spite of my pleas for him not to do so.  (It bled and I cried all the way home, I missed playing with it suspended in my top jaw, flicking it with my tongue and feeling the oddly pleasant pull of its thread.) You had to walk past the poultry market on the way to the dentist.  You could look through the barred windows between black-painted wooden slats - it was like a barn - to see brightly coloured red-eyed chickens, sometimes geese too.  I didn't like it as much as the cattle market but I can still recall the smell from there - and the noise.  The smell at the cattle market was different: more shitty, more earthy, less suffocating.  I could feel the warm breath of the cows as I was held up to pat them and stroke their coarse carpet-pile hair.  I didn't like the ear tags, some were encrusted with dry blood, especially on the pigs.  There were always puddles, and buckets, hosepipes, piles of thick shiny straw, curly-haired men with faces like tomatoes, wellies.  Occasionally there were goats, bulls in pens of their own, and soft-eyed, gangly-limbed calves.

I'm glad mum took me there, I loved seeing the animals close-up, learning about them, thinking about them.  I'm glad I didn't know or understand at the time what lay ahead for most of them.

The cattle market closed in the 1980s and is now a car park, and the poultry market was pulled down. Last time I was there, there was a shop selling fancy mirrors in its place.

Took me about half an hour to put these pieces together just now...

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Leather, a wedding and a skull or two too

One of the last times I wore a leather biker jacket was at a wedding.  My wedding!

It was cough splutter twitch mumble years ago today, and we both dressed in black and leather. I must confess that we hadn't even wanted to do the whole marriage thing in the first place, because it didn't seem very rock'n'roll.  However, it looked as if I might not have a home in the not-too-distant future and that as a married couple we could be offered a place on the council list, so we did it.  We picked the date and I went down to the Registrars to book it. The man behind the desk spent a lot of time explaining that parking was so limited we'd need to tell all our guests to use the car park by the train station please, and he made it very clear that confetti was strictly forbidden, etc. etc.  It all seemed very officious.  I barely acknowledged his instructions and conditions, just nodding vaguely before asking how much these formalities would cost.  If my memory serves me well, it was about £9.50.

So we made it as rock'n'roll as we could, and I'll never forget the Registrar's face when the two of us walked in together dressed like we were just off to a gig.  He was surprised when our two witnesses were the only guests we'd invited as well, and none of us had cars or confetti.  No family, no photos either.   When we finally exchanged our silver skull-and-crossbones rings, the man's expression was priceless.  I don't wear the same ring now, but I did for several years and I'll always remember one day when I was serving a very posh man in the record shop, he caught sight of my third finger left hand.  "That's bloody bizarre" he said in a disapproving Sergeant Major type voice. "Is it?" I replied.  (What did he think I was going to say: "Oh my god, I never noticed! Get it off me, quick!" ?)

Anyway I was talking about leather biker jackets, wasn't I? -  and I was just saying to a friend the other day how something that was once quite a rebellious fashion statement for a female (particularly if you didn't actually ride a motorbike) has become populist now.  So populist that recently Littlewoods advertised it as one of this year's Top Ten 'must haves' for ladies, along with ankle boots, an oversized bag and a skater skirt.  It's in the mainstream... like Ramones Tshirts and doubtless many other items and styles that once meant something special to the wearer, once gave them an edge and set them apart, but not any more.  Funny how that happens, and now that alone is enough reason for me not to want to wear another biker jacket - even though aesthetically I do still like them.  But this is just wrong:

After our £9.50 wedding we pushed the boat out and had a slap-up meal at the local restaurant with our two 'witness' mates, followed by Mars Bars bought tipsily from the local corner shop and then we went home.... separately.  Our plan didn't work and we were never offered a council place.  We lived apart for several months before I managed to get a job and we could pool enough money together for rent in a shabby sub-let concrete flat above a shopping precinct, with a dodgy neighbour whose feral kids used to peer into our back windows and from where we once witnessed the nearby petrol station catching fire and lighting up the sky.  And other stories which I won't bore you with!  Very rock'n'roll, hmm...

Off for a slap-up meal now.  See ya later!

Sunday 23 November 2014

Es war im Sommer '69

It was the Summer of '69. I got my first real six-string, bought it at the five-and-dime.... no, no, NO! Begone with you, Bryan Adams, aarghh!

Where were we... ? The Summer of '69 and in my case, for three weeks anyway, in Germany. I've written a little here before, about travelling around in the back of a racing green Jaguar MkII and having a wobbly tooth in a thunderstorm. Today I stumbled across an old photo, the only one I have from that trip, of Micha and me reunited for a day. Micha and her family had been next door neighbours for a couple of years before they moved back to Germany. I loved Micha - she was my first, proper, best friend. When she left, she gave me her gold-painted bike 'Dobbin' and a little elasticated bracelet with pictures of alpine flowers on each of the white plastic links.

The lovely Micha on the left

It's funny what you remember, isn't it? For instance I don't remember a thing about the food on that trip, or much about the weather. My recollections are like sparse cuttings from a magazine, as if someone has gone through pages and pages full of detail and imagery but has only snipped round a few sentences and a handful of pictures, then stuck them in a scrapbook and thrown the rest away. Every time I flick through this mental album I see those same snippets, I see them clearly, but I can't fill in the blank spaces between them.

So I remembered about the wobbly tooth and the thunderstorm. I also remember staying in a house which had wooden shutters on the windows and I became briefly obsessed with them, “Mummy, can we put shutters on the windows at home? Can we? Please?” (Of course we never did...) I also loved the fairytale theme park in Ludwigsburg where they had a Rapunzel Tower. Rapunzel was my favourite story of all time, albeit that was only a six year lifetime in my case; still, it was magical. My Ladybird edition certainly was well loved.

Just as the Prince did in the fairytale, we had to call up, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!” (“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, lass deinen Zopf herunter!”) and as I waited so excitedly, holding my breath in anticipation, a big plait of flaxen rope hair came down slowly from the one high window. It didn't come down quite far enough for anyone to actually grab it and climb up it, which was a little disappointing, but not so much so that it tainted the experience. I just imagined she'd need to grow her locks a little longer and then maybe I could go back one day and actually touch it when she had.

I remember my big sister getting a mosquito bite that flared up really badly and had everyone worried for days, and I remember feeling worried myself when looking down from the top of the Television Tower in Stuttgart – I really didn't like it at all. “Look at the tiny cars down there!” my sister exclaimed as we peered nervously over the edge. I have a vague memory of a trip to a musty old castle with lots of steps, and another of driving along the Autobahn and my parents arguing because my dad had missed the turn-off and my mum was supposed to be navigating. In a shop where we went to buy some souvenirs there were some toys with the laughable name 'Jobbies' - you always remember that kind of stuff, don't you? I didn't come home with a Jobby; instead I had a little doll with red hair dressed in a dirndl. You also never forget the holiday romances and it's true, I had a brief flirtation in a restaurant with a young German boy who seemed to have the hots for me. Sadly the only thing I was able to say to him, over and over again as I remember, was “Ich spreche kein Deutsch” (carefully taught parrot-fashion by my mum – at least I think that's what she'd helped me to say to him) but I still recall how nice his cheeky smiles made me feel, even then.

There were people, lots of people – friends of my parents who let us stay in their houses, took us to places, gave us presents, like Heidi, and Gudrun & Franz, and Theo and Rudolf.  And Micha. Micha who posted that photo to me in England on our return, with a little note on the back.

Sunday 16 November 2014

Girl Crush Sunday #4

It's time for another instalment of Girl Crush Sunday and I'm in a playful mood.

Today is a double helping and as I'm feeling a little frolicsome let's not play it straight (no pun intended); instead, shall we put a little twist on it?

First up...

I don't even know her name. But, in keeping with recent conversations on here and on other blogs about the beauty and infinite mystique of old photos, I want to offer a place to

  'Secretary at West German Radio Station, Cologne'

as photographed by August Sander in 1931. Her androgyny is striking. To my mind there's a resemblance to Brett Anderson, which is probably why she caught my eye. There's more to this photo than shades of Suede, though... something in her expression and the pose, the loosely held cigarette, the dress, the haircut and of course the knowledge that we have no more knowledge than this. I could hang a name on her: Helga, or Claudia, Uta or Gertrud...? No, not Gertrud.  Maybe Dagmar? Her voice, surely, is deep and smoky, typically Teutonic.  I can smell the cigarette mixed with the faint scent of her fragrance – something like jasmine, dabbed on her neck from a small, dark violet bottle. She is intelligent, artistic, ambitious and self-reliant. Loves fashion, owns a large dog. GSOH. Dirty laugh.  She was perhaps none of those things, but the illusion is mine, and yours, to create.


Anne Hegarty

Dear Anne

Whenever I casually flick through the TV channels with a vacant mind whilst drinking a cup of tea, I always seem to stumble upon an episode of 'The Chase'. And, suddenly, I find myself yearning to see you – you, only you, dear 'Frosty Knickers'. I don't want to see the other 'Chasers', I want to see the mischievous look in your eyes and the way you force your mouth to turn down at the corners to maintain your steely superiority even though I can tell that you secretly long to smile, to laugh, to say something kind. Perhaps you might say something kind to me if I were to blush at the question, "In what sport does Fanny Chmelar compete for Germany?" 

Oh, dear 'Governess', there is something oddly compelling about your schoolmistress demeanour combined with the impressively vast extent of your knowledge that makes me want to stay tuned in to this cheap quiz show forever. Will you be my 'Girl Crush Sunday'? Just for a laugh... that is, if I can make you do so, simply to hear you betray the tight bonds of your public persona with your Mancunian chuckle. I may not share your intellect but I know the Latin name for a wren, the capital of Slovakia and now, thanks to 'The Chase' I know that Fanny Chmelar is an alpine skier. We could have dinner together - do you like Thai? - and discuss the merits of the photography of August Sander...

Tuesday 11 November 2014


The man on the far right looks very smart.  I don't know what he saw or what he experienced and I never met him - but I did marry his grandson!

Sunday 9 November 2014

A baby zebra in a tyre swing

I love my job, I'm fortunate. Just lately I think I've turned a corner, finding techniques and ideas a little easier, discovering that I can work more confidently and fluently than before. For some reason I've attracted foreign publishers; it feels exotic, romantic even, sending pictures over the oceans and mountains and across the Equator... to be reborn as pages of books which will be read in languages that sound nothing like my own.

However, at the same time it often feels as if these are the only proof of my existence! Whilst I'm whizzing around the world in one dimension, I'm becoming increasingly rooted to my home turf in every other - more and more confined to base. My contacts are just names, in black lines on a white screen. We type hi and best wishes and thank you... we meet deadlines... but we'll never meet each other. My actual world becomes smaller and my physical meetings fewer, the more my pictorial world widens and the further my communications travel.  Such irony.

There are so many imaginary voyages to take so I spend more and more time inside my head. Outside it I too am just a name in black lines on a white screen to someone somewhere. Real and imagined universes mingle as I paddle out to the farthest reaches of my mind to conjure up scenes I'm never going to witness because they don't exist. I try to catch them as they hover up there in the top right of my brain like distant butterflies, often behind some misty ethereal screen, frequently elusive until they choose to reveal themselves. Once caught I must pin them down, sharpen their blurry edges, fix their constantly metamorphosing forms and seal them on paper, make them tangible, black and white and still.

Well really this is just a fanciful way of telling you that my latest brief is to illustrate a baby zebra, wearing a large floppy hat with a feather in it, giggling whilst sitting in a tyre swing being pushed by Grandma. The zebra, that is. There are legs and haunches and hooves and ears to consider... how could a baby zebra sit in a tyre swing?!  How does Grandma Zebra push it? How will baby wear the hat?  Would illegal substances help?

Soberly, I'm still searching up there (brain, top right, behind the misty screen) for the answers. Then I'll have to trap them in black lines on white paper.  Obviously in this case lots of black lines.  In due course paints will flesh them out further and one day, hopefully, they'll be reincarnated in the mind of a child across the Atlantic who will look at the pages and see what I saw, then take their own imaginary voyage...

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Goth revisited

There's been much conversation here in SDS Towers these last few days about so-called goth.  That is, about what should have been shown on last week's 'Goth at the BBC' prog and what was really way off target.  Quite a memory jogger.  We've decided that they really ought to have had some Danse Society, and that they could have picked some different songs by the bands that they did include.  Mr SDS thinks 'Marian' would have been a better choice for the Sisters of Mercy clip.  Well, you know how one thought leads to another - I was at my French class tonight and I had this going through my mind.  Any excuse to post some Nouvelle Vague!

Saturday 1 November 2014

Phantasmagoria / A B Frost

Wonderful illustrations by American artist A B Frost, who was commissioned by Lewis Carroll during a visit to London in the 1870s.  These images from the poem 'Phantasmagoria' were first published in the illustrated version of  'Rhyme? and Reason?' in 1883.

Yes, I should have posted these last night really... but I was too busy reminiscing whilst watching 'Goth At The BBC'!

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Happy spider house

Just a quick post as I'm so excited about seeing 'Spider House' this evening (BBC Four, 9pm) - an hour and a half of arachnid love. Reading some blurb about it earlier, I'm sure it's going to be a positive thing for their public image and I'm delighted.

The other night, they even used 'Happy House' in the trailer.  Must be good!

Monday 27 October 2014

Not a Latin lover

Mrs Bacciarelli had an imposing presence: robust in physique with leathery skin and hair still black in spite of her advancing years, she spoke with an Eastern European accent and rarely smiled. My French teacher was young and benign in comparison, but Mrs Bacciarelli's subject was Latin. It seemed appropriate that she should be as formidable as the language she taught.

Latin seemed to be all about endings. What little I can remember about it now was that just about every word had to change its ending according to its place in a sentence. As far as I can recall these were known as declensions – all dependent on gender and 'nominative' and 'subjective' cases and god knows what else; I no longer know what any of them mean. In the first year of learning it I was a studious little goody-two-shoes who rose to the challenge and Mrs Bacciarelli's firm teaching methods kept me in my place. One or two little things have stuck, so for instance I can confirm that the plural of 'succubus' would be 'succubi'. Always a useful thing to know.

Here's a picture of one just to grab your attention.

Lilith by John Collier (1892)

When Mrs B retired in the third year a mild-mannered, softly spoken Northern man who wore tweed jackets and bicycle clips took her place - and I lost mine. To be honest, I'd had enough of translating sentences that had so little relevance to contemporary life. At least in French lessons we wrote about Philippe and Michelle going to the shop to buy Johnny Halliday records. In Latin, the most stimulating sentences involved centurions, slaves, temples and the occasional dog. That's not as interesting as it suggests, either. I think the only time I laughed in a Latin class was when there was a text which referenced the island of Lesbos. Cue much predictable but surreptitious sniggering.

Anyway, Mr Bicycle Clips couldn't keep my attention and after being caught for copying my friend's homework more than once I was relieved to be able to give up such a difficult language and take up German instead. Before I did, though, my mum did her best to help keep me interested in this ancient subject. She bought me a copy of 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit'!

(I don't think she could find any books in Latin about succubi.)

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Whatever happened to Norman Stanley Fletcher?

The other day Mr SDS picked up a DVD of the British TV comedy series 'Going Straight' from a charity shop in town.  We decided to watch one episode of it each evening before passing it on to a new home, and we've just finished all six.

I remember when it was first aired, in 1978, and being interested to see this follow-up to the much-loved 'Porridge', which really was a staple of the British sitcom diet in the '70s.  The now ex-con Fletcher, played by Ronnie Barker, was the star of 'Going Straight' which also featured his young cell-mate Lennie Godber.  This, I have to say, was a bonus for a teenage girl who had the hots for Richard Beckinsale...

In this short-lived series (sadly a second was never to be, due to Beckinsale's early death), both Fletcher and Godber have been released from prison and have vowed to stay away from crime, with the unerring support of Fletcher's sweet, toothy daughter Ingrid (played by Patricia Brake).  Ingrid just happens to be going out with Godber too.  Fletcher's gormless son Raymond also makes an appearance, providing an early role for Nicholas Lyndhurst.  Each episode's storyline is surprisingly heartwarming and relatively simple, but what really works about 'Going Straight', just as with 'Porridge', is the dialogue.

Scriptwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais are such masters in the art of writing dialogue which is not only funny but frequently reflective.  Their characterisations are never one-dimensional, but are full of natural and believable human contradictions, conveyed with intelligence and just the right degree of emotion.  They toy with words in puns and double-entendres, with rich vocabulary and playful turns of phrase.  Whilst gentle in tone, nothing is dumbed down and poignancy and pathos sit happily alongside more obvious comedic and farcical moments.  As in other Clement and La Frenais favourites like '(Whatever Happened To) 'The Likely Lads' and 'Auf Wiedersehen, Pet', we feel as if we know the characters through their conversations alone, and we root for them, warts'n'all.

I don't know whether a comedy series like this, 'Porridge', 'The Likely Lads' et al would get commissioned now - they might seem too mild and too wordy... and perhaps a large part of their appeal is that they can't be separated from their respective eras.

Passing references to punk and Margaret Thatcher place 'Going Straight' firmly against its 1978 backdrop and tiny details evoked memories for me that shocked me into realising just how long ago it was.  Ingrid's elasticated belt with little metal clasps (I'd forgotten until now that I had one too), the Probation Officer smoking at her desk and offering Fletcher a Rich Osborne biscuit, the wallpapered kitchen and those net curtains made up of oval-shaped holes...  Looking at the décor and fashions now it really does seem ancient.  Then again, I guess I am too: in 1978 I was going to my first proper gig (Siouxsie & The Banshees) and choosing the subjects I'd be doing for 'O' Levels the following year.

And this was released in '78 too.

Thursday 16 October 2014


I'm dog-tired and uninspired, no chance to blog, too much slog - the kitchen will be bitchin tho' right now there's no wow, it's just a bitch... that's the sitch.

But I'm not shirking, no, I'm working, like a dog. Dog-tired dog. Perhaps that should be, because I'm a she: bitch-tired bitch?  Is that a bit rich or (natch unlike me) un-PC?!

(Sorry I'm quiet, life's a riot...)

Thursday 2 October 2014

An ordinary day off in an ordinary life

After a tense week so far, today started well with a conversation about Astronut. Don't know quite how we got onto it, I mean we were still in bed and had only been awake for a few minutes, next thing you know we're talking about Astronut which I haven't thought about for at least a couple of decades, if that. I'd also just stated that I hadn't been a great fan of cartoons as a kid – I was somewhat troubled by the violence in Tom & Jerry, such a sensitive child – but then I added the fateful words, “well, except for...” and found myself listing numerous animations that I'd actively loved.  Astronut was one of them, as was Deputy Dawg (where Astronut  first appeared), all those ones that were shown as part of The Banana Splits (like Arabian Nights, a favourite), The Harlem Globetrotters, Wacky Races, Marine Boy, Scooby Doo, Dangermouse, etc., etc....

As memories of Oscar Mild and his little alien friend continued to return, I got ready to go to the dentists (again) to get a deep clean from the hygienist. This may sound slightly fetishistic but I love the whole hygienist experience. Having my teeth methodically picked at and scraped and made all new and shiny.. mmm... I think it must tap into something primal to do with being groomed, like an animal. (Likewise haircuts and foot tickling. Perhaps it's just the undivided physical attention.)

The only weird thing was being talked to incessantly by a very nice but extremely chatty hygienist whilst completely unable to reply in any coherent form. An odd one-way conversation; she was babbling away about her neighbours' outrageous £34k wedding (£34k??!! - mine cost £9.50 plus two skull-and-crossbones rings and a meal for four at the Italian) and the TV programme she'd watched about the tattooed vigilante paedophile-catcher...  and all I could do was vaguely grunt with my mouth open. I tried to communicate with my eyes – opening them wider on hearing about the happy couple's chocolate fountain and giant Jenga game, and tightening them in a frown at the other tales with the obviously darker theme. All the while the hygienist's stomach rumbled in the background, right behind my reclined head; it was lunchtime. Quite surreal.

When that was over I got into the car, grinned into the rear view mirror to check for bloodstains and vowed never to eat another Mars Bar, let alone go near a chocolate fountain.

From there it was on to B&Q to buy paint and to hear the strange cut-price versions of popular songs piped out into the aisles that make me laugh every time. They always seem to choose songs whose originals have idiosyncratic vocals which just emphasises the ridiculousness of the copies. We often wonder how much they must pay these session singers and musicians to record these covers – is it really cheaper than paying for royalties and PRS licences or whatever it is the originals demand? Today 'Rock The Casbah' got this odd, passionless treatment. Serendipitously, as we got back into the car with a big tin of undercoat and put on the radio, the Clash original came on and all was well again.

Later I walked down to the Co-op to ask if they could spare some old cardboard boxes (we're emptying the kitchen at the weekend in readiness for new units. It'll be like moving house, looking for the bottle-opener and a can of baked beans in the depths of chaos.) I stopped a young lad as he went about his business and gave him my warmest, twinkliest smile. I do believe I was flirting, ever so slightly. It seemed to work and he couldn't do enough for me, running about looking for suitable containers: I'll see if we have anything a bit bigger... and... Will this be OK?... and...Are these enough? “That's brilliant, thank you ever so much” I said as I tucked the flat Doritos boxes under my arms and beamed at him again. Anything to show off my sparkly clean teeth, after all.

Friday 26 September 2014

Don't know where I want to be

Out all day with lovely friends, eating olives and pasta and tiramisu, washed down with white wine and cappuccino, who could ask for more.  We're nattering away about life and love and the universe, as usual, but my brain is also partly drawn to the music playing in the background.  This is hard for me as I'm no multi-tasker but I'm recognising songs by Jungle and tUnE-yArDs at least. There's so much  too that I don't know... is it my age or is it just that it's a little more eclectic than usual restaurant soundtracks?  Some of it sounds alright... maybe it's the association, I'm happy and with people I love, perhaps like when you hear music on the radio when you're driving in the early hours of the morning and it takes on an ethereal quality that it wouldn't necessarily do if heard on other occasions.    One track, though, I don't know quite why, it takes me momentarily away from the conversation.  Quite simple, yet so bittersweet, a lazy rhythm, a less-is-more song, one of those that touches me in ways I really can't explain, nothing obvious - but I know I want to hear it again. I don't have Shazam... the only way I'm going to be able to track this down later is to catch a part of the lyric and see if I can find its source on the web when I get home.  I write it on the back of my cheque-book:  "I don't know where I want to be..."

I don't think I'll ever find it with as little to go on as that, but I do and here it is.

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Well all you've got to do is do it

I've just set myself a new challenge... one picture every day.

Not for others, just for me.  I spend most days making pictures for others, and it's usually all very lovely and frequently challenging plus I like being paid, but when I'm not working I often just stop drawing.  Then I thought: that's mad, I used to draw just for fun when I wasn't doing it for a living, and now I'm not?  So I took a huge piece of paper, cut it into a zillion rectangles about the size of a small business card and I'm going to make one picture every day just for fun (whether working or not).  Anything, in any style, it's only small, and if I have no more than five minutes spare then that's how long it'll take.

Today I had no more than five minutes spare.

A good friend used to be a sea Captain and tomorrow he celebrates fifty years since his first voyage as a young merchant navy cadet, his first day of many at sea.  So that was today's inspiration.

Don't know ahout tomorrow's but must do it.  Probably no surprise that this song's going through my head right now (well, the main bit, not the one-minute intro which frankly I prefer to skip!)

Nice legs 

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