Sunday 27 July 2014

Painter and Poster

Time is tight at the moment so in case I disappear for a while, here are some pictures to look at!

I picked up a great exhibition book at Marcus Campbell Books in London yesterday: 'Le Peintre & L'Affiche - de Lautrec à Warhol', and for only £2!  There are loads of great images of posters by painters in it, like these...

Franz von Stuck
Internationale Hygiene Ausstellung

This is from 1890, yet looks so contemporary somehow
Edouard Vuillard
Cyclistes prenez Bécane

Gorgeous typography
Marie Vassilieff
2me Bal de l'Aide Amicale Aux Artistes

For Erik!
Joan Miro
Aidez l'Espagne

I'd love to illustrate like Toulouse-Lautrec, with
his perfect use of flat colour and economical lines
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Reine de joie

El Lissitzky
Russische Ausstellung

Augusto Giacometti

Andy Warhol
RCA Colour Scanner Advertisement

Friday 25 July 2014

For the love of art

I've only been to Tate Modern three times.  The first time was just a few years after it opened, and I went with a friend I hadn't seen for over a decade. We'd arranged a rendezvous on a hot, sunny Spring afternoon on the Millennium Bridge, where we were relieved to find we recognised each other without difficulty in spite of the years that had passed.  I got sunburnt whilst supping a pint outside at a nearby pub.

The last time was just a couple of years ago, where I went with the same friend. We'd arranged a rendezvous on a wet, windy Spring afternoon on the Millennium Bridge - recognition no longer a concern, peering from under my umbrella as the heavens opened. We queued up in the dark to see Damien Hirst's blingy 'For The Love Of God' skull and visited every floor.

And the occasion in between was on my own - on a windy, sunny Autumm morning, after an overnight stay in London following a publisher's party (and should that sound like I live some kind of high-flying high life, it's the only one I've ever been to!)  I was tired and a little worse for wear, but still the visit confirmed my undying love for Max Ernst's 'Forest and Dove'.

So tomorrow it'll be my fourth time... with lovely pals I haven't seen for a few years... there's an exhibition of Matisse Cut Outs and I'd like to see the Malevich show... I'll wear suncream and take an umbrella... and I'll blow a kiss to the Millennium Bridge, to 'Forest and Dove', and to old friends.

Have a good weekend!

Kazimir Malevich: Self Portrait 1912

Monday 21 July 2014

2 B or not 2 B

'A thing of beauty is a joy for ever' wrote John Keats, and so did my dear old Nan, in neat fountain pen handwriting across the page in my little autograph book.  It was a pocket sized volume with embossed lettering on its cover and each page was a different colour.   Although mostly scrawled in by my eight-year-old school chums it did boast a salutation from a proper famous person - well, he was in my eyes - H E Todd, author of the 'Bobby Brewster' books. He'd visited my school and read us some of his stories, many of which I already knew from featuring on 'Jackanory' in around 1970.   I adored Bobby Brewster and his ability to telephone his tummy when he was hungry (or something like that - I seem to remember he could translate its gurgles and rumbles into requests for sardine sandwiches, but I might be wrong).

Another signature which seemed important at the time was that of the woman from the Puffin Club who had been at the one and only members' event I ever went to, a Summer fancy dress party in Hatfield Broad Oak to which I wore a rather hot home-made caterpillar costume. I mean 'hot' in the temperature sense, of course...  All I gathered about her was that she was called Jane, so if she ever went on to scale great literary heights, or to feature on a special Puffin Club edition of 'Family Fortunes' (unlikely, I know) I'd be none the wiser.

'Sniffup Spotera'

My favourite autograph, however, was from someone closer to home. With a twinkle in her eye my Mum wrote this on a pastel blue page above her name:

YY 4 Me

She'd learned it when she was a schoolgirl, back in the 1930s or '40s, and when she carefully scribed it in my little book I loved it so much I never forgot it.   Our familiarity with text-speak makes it quicker to decipher now than when I first saw it, but back then it looked like a curiously puzzling riddle.  Once solved, it seemed a perfect mix of ingenious and yet simultaneously simple humour.  Too wise, indeed.

In an era when it's commonplace to bemoan the increasing use of economical spellings and linguistic short-cuts it'd be easy to assume that they're a recent thing and a threat to our language, but I don't think so.  In 1867 a poem by Charles C Bombaugh was published (labelled as 'emblematic poetry' and thought of as very clever); here's one of its verses:

He says he loves U 2 X S
U R virtuous and Y's
In X L N C U X L
All others in his i's

Then, of course, there was Slade...

Mama Weer All Crazee Now

... and did somebody mention Prince?

I love the way language can be so many things: playful, pliable and adaptable, as well as beautiful.  And a thing of beauty is a joy for ever, innit.

Wednesday 16 July 2014

Rock lobster

After including the lobster card in the previous post I decided to do a bit of research. It turns out that the lobster pictured was, as the caption said: 'the most famous of all the shellfish'. He was adopted at the age of three months by the recently widowed Mrs Jeffers who emigrated from Maine to the small seaside town of Mudeford in the UK in 1979. She and her worldly goods travelled over by ship specifically so that she could take Simeon (as she called him) with her; in fact a specially adapted lobster pot was suspended from the ship's deck for the duration of the journey so that her pet crustacean could enjoy the homely pleasures of the Atlantic waters en route.

On settling down in their new surroundings in England, Mrs Jeffers and her lobster became enthusiastic members of the local Bridge Club and Simeon gained some notoriety after being taught to play 'Bourrée' on a miniature descant recorder. He was even featured performing this to an enraptured Sue Lawley on BBC 'Nationwide' some time in 1981 but sadly no footage of this exists.

However, his story doesn't have a happy ending. Mrs Jeffers started a relationship with a local electrician who by all accounts was a bit of a cad. Jealous of the obvious affection between Simeon and his owner, he said he was going out to get a fish'n'chip supper one evening and whilst Mrs J was bringing in the washing he surreptitiously placed Simeon in a Tesco bag and took him with him to 'Oh My Cod' where witnesses say he was greeted very warmly.  Simeon was never seen again and we can only assume the terrible thing that must have happened to him that fateful night.

But of course you can't believe everything you read on the web (not even on this blog).  I mean, it is with some incredulity that I read about the 19th century French poet Gérard de Nerval who apparently had a pet lobster called Thibault that he took out on a leash to walk on the Parisian streets. This is, unsurprisingly, a little better known than the tale above and you can read more about it here

Apparently you can keep lobsters as pets if you have them in an aquarium and they're quite easy to please in spite of their grumpy demeanour, eating a variety of foods and generally loafing about all day.  A piece of lobster trivia: they can amputate their own claws, legs and antennae if need be to get out of a dangerous situation, and grow them back. Kind of makes the idea of playing a miniature descant recorder a little less ridiculous.

Ridiculous or not, depending on your taste, is Salvador Dali's Lobster Telephone (aka Aphrodisiac Telephone) which he created in 1936.   Lobsters and telephones were sexually symbolic in Dali's work.  I know you already know what it looks like but, go on, have another peek...

Back in the groovy early '70s my mum's favourite piece of furniture was a 'lobster pot' stool made out of wicker. It looked like this:

As I'm sure you can imagine it went very well with the macramé wall hangings in our house.  I loved that stool.

I can't have a lobster pot stool or a lobster aquarium or a lobster telephone but I would happily indulge my lobster love with this dress:

This was created a few years ago by the label The Rodnik Band which has wonderful pop art inspirations and I must admit I'm rather taken with it.  I'd be more likely to wear it than this other outfit of theirs – although I applaud the 'presence' of  'pubic hair' and I'd be curious to see the reactions it could provoke. Especially if accessorised with a lobster on a leash....

(Well, of course!)

Tuesday 15 July 2014

Picture postcards

I just can't resist the simple lure of a postcard. On every trip to a museum or gallery (or whatever) I end up in the gift shop where I can at least leave with something small and affordable: a perfect pocket-sized picture to keep, not just as a memento of the visit but as something in its own right.

This is also why I was on my knees for half an hour in Oxfam the other day, having discovered two large boxes on the floor crammed absolutely full with old postcards. Just like going through a stack of records or a rack of clothes in a second-hand shop, you know you have to go tirelessly through every one, to flick past the majority of more predictable donations so as not to miss something a little more interesting tucked away in their midst...

Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward
'Elegance, Charm and Deadly Danger'

'The Maine Lobster is the most famous of all the shell fish'

Piccadilly Circus, 1960

The Woods at Pontarddulais (Frith's Series)

Linocut of 'The Blue Plough, Saffron Walden' by Edward Bawden

'Cenoceras' from The British Museum

'Study of a Cat' by F Ernest Jackson from the Royal Academy

Wednesday 9 July 2014

The wicked stepmother and the jar of coffee

I had one of those friends in the last year at school who wasn't what I'd term a 'proper' friend. She sort of latched on to me for some reason, but it was always a bit of a one-way relationship. She was 'more transmit than receive', if you know what I mean.

I never went round her house, although she was found frequently knocking on my door waiting to pour out her latest news. We had little in common apart from once having shared a boyfriend... we just hadn't known we were sharing him at the same time. Other than that though I can't think of what we talked about, but then again I was probably only ever doing the listening. There was a good reason why I was never invited back to her house, mind: she had a wicked stepmother.

Wicked Stepmother had a thing against me. She'd seen me in town on Saturday afternoons wearing my leopard-spot trousers and gravity-defying hair with Eric the plastic skull key-ring hanging from my ear, and strongly disapproved – well, apparently. I never knew who she was, never saw her, but One Way Friend delighted in telling me that I'd been spotted by this unknown woman. “She thinks it's disgusting the way you dress. She thinks punks are the pits,” she'd tell me at school on Monday mornings. It's no surprise then that, in my mind, Wicked Stepmother took on the personality of Cruella Deville with the physical features of the Duchess from Alice In Wonderland.

In the Summer of '79 we left school and One Way Friend went to live with her sister in Ipswich, which seemed a million miles away even though it was only fifty. In a bid, perhaps, to continue our 'friendship' in spite of the distance, she offered me cheap tickets to see Ian Dury & The Blockheads at the Ipswich Gaumont one night, so off I went with my (new) boyfriend; we had a good time at the gig, all was well. As a small return favour One Way Friend asked if I could deliver something when I got back home. She gave me a jar of coffee – special coffee (I don't know why it was special, was it some brand that you could only get in Ipswich?   'Tractor Boys' Coffee?) and asked me to drop it round to her old house for her stepmother.

I fully intended to do this, honest. I put it on my little desk in my bedroom and decided I'd go round there the next weekend. The next weekend came and I felt a bit nervous about finally meeting Wicked Stepmother. “No, I'll do it next week,” I decided, imagining somehow, magically, I would feel differently then.

Next week came and the jar of coffee was still on my desk. Meanwhile, in my mind, Wicked Stepmother had taken on the personality of Attila the Hun, with the physical features of Hitler.   I was too busy really, wasn't I? I couldn't spare the time this week, I'll have to go round in a few days. I'll just put the jar of coffee in the cupboard until then.

“Have you taken that coffee round yet?” my Mum asked the following month.

“Oh no, I'll do that next week...”

Meanwhile, in my mind, Wicked Stepmother had taken on the personality of Godzilla, with the physical features of... Godzilla.

In 1983 I moved out of my old family home. I packed up my clothes, records, books, etc. I threw away a load of old papers, dolls and games that had been stuffed away in my bedroom, out of sight and mind for years. Right at the back of the cupboard I found a dusty jar of coffee.... I threw it out too.  I mean, I was hardly going to go round and deliver something to Wicked Godzilla Stepmother four years late - she'd have thought I was the pits.  Disgusting.

Monday 7 July 2014

Women in punk

The Culture Show have done it again - with another excellent special, this time a feature about women in punk.  It was broadcast last week but is available on iPlayer until tomorrow night (8th July).

New interviews with Viv Albertine (her autobiographical book is perhaps at the core of this programme) alongside eminent others, including Gaye Advert and a rare one with Jordan, feature amongst archive footage of the Slits and X-ray Spex, etc.  I was going to wax lyrical on the subject as it's one that's close to my heart and the influence these women had on me was so significant, but I haven't left myself enough time to waffle on here today.  Perhaps another post!

In the meantime, if you didn't see it and you're interested, then take a look while it's still up there:

My 1970s home-made screenprint of Jordan!

Thursday 3 July 2014

The Dentists

I must have been grinding my teeth or something but last night I had a dental dream.  For some reason I can't work out, the actor Eddie Marsan was the one doing the drilling.  Not a  benign, smiley Eddie Marsan but a very sinister, cold (and still smiley - which is even more sinister) one.  If you saw him play the sociopath hitman 'Sunshine' in the comedy drama 'Grass' by Andrew Collins and Simon Day a few years back - that was who he was.  A fucking hitman dentist!
"Open wide"

He shoved metal implements down my throat which nearly choked me and I also remember that he took advantage of my submissive position on the horizontal chair for an inappropriate grope of my wobbly bits.  I expect you're glad I used the word 'inappropriate' there...

Then he buggered off as it was 5.30pm apparently, and told me that his assistant would carry on.  I looked across the room to see who that lucky person might be and it was the bloke from up the road who fixed our gutters last year.  "Is he a qualified dentist, then?" I asked, somewhat appalled - although it probably came out as, "Ith e a ollyied ehhitht theh?" to which the reply from sinister, cold, smiley Sunshine was, "No but dentists don't need to be qualified these days, anyone can do it".  And then, thank god, I woke up. Dribbling.

But the dream suddenly reminded me of the band The Dentists, whom I once saw live back in the '80s and who, incidentally, had a song called 'I Had An Excellent Dream'...

Tuesday 1 July 2014


So Debbie Harry and Dolly Parton were both 68 when they played Glastonbury at the weekend! In fact Debbie's birthday is today so she's now 69 - can you believe it? - I always remember her birthday because it's the day before mine.  Anyway, did you see them on stage? I was sadly disappointed by Blondie... and experienced the opposite from Dolly. I couldn't have predicted that.

Neither could I have predicted even a few days ago quite how it would feel to meet up with someone whom I haven't seen for thirty-two years.  Thirty-two years! The last occasion we even clapped eyes on each other was when we were just 19, the day we walked out of that Graphics studio at college for the very last time. I don't even remember saying “goodbye”. Partings then didn't seem like partings, perhaps that's an age thing (I'm not talking about hair...)

We live at opposite ends of the country now but on Friday a rare opportunity allowed us to reunite for a long pub lunch.  It's quite a weird thing to see someone after that kind of gap and it was absolutely brilliant. Now, with both of us hurtling towards our 51st birthdays, I reckon we've turned out fine. Supping a pint of Guinness in the sunshine and chatting freely for hours I could still see the boy he was in college days, and perhaps he could still see the girl I was - but it's even better now... easy... we're settled and confident and positive and mellow (though not too mellow) and... old! And – here's another thing I couldn't have predicted: I'm liking being this age (and 68 still seems a long way off but if Debbie and Dolly can do it....)

(If you just happen to be reading this... after you mentioned Salad Days (a song which I had totally forgotten) by Young Marble Giants from our college era when we inhaled as much spray mount as we did cigarette smoke, I came home and reminded myself of it and it seems so very apt.   If college days were our salad days, now we're in our apple pie and custard days.  Here it is.)

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