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'!

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