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 doppelg√§nger (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 doppelg√§nger.  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.

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