Thursday 24 December 2015

The First Nowell

Well, I couldn't resist one more post for this year...

It's just that we were watching Coronation Street the other night and the subject of Christmas carols came up; the lads at Webster's Autocentre were discussing which was their favourite. “So what's yours?” I asked Mr SDS (turns out his is that melancholy-sounding one O Come O Come Emmanuel) and from thereon we tried to remember the tunes we'd learned as kids and got them all mixed up. I mean, can you tell the difference between Hark The Herald Angels Sing and Once In Royal David's City, or are they the same melody? They seem interchangeable...  But as we mumbled our way through the first bars of Away In A Manger, strong memories were evoked.  These songs have endured since early childhood, learned in my first year at school and forever with me in spite of a lack of religious belief.  I wish I could say they conjured up cosy festive scenes and perhaps the taste of mulled wine, presents round the tree, the smell of woodsmoke – any nostalgic Christmas cliché you care to choose – but my associations are, unfortunately, quite unpleasant. Silent Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem... name any carol... and they evoke just three things (not kings): fluorescent striplights, a nervous knot in my stomach and a big puddle of vomit. And the vomit has pinky-purple chunks in it like diced beetroot, eww!

It was only one night but it sticks. The fluorescent striplights: being inside my primary school after hours in Winter. It was wrong, somehow - wrong to be in the school hall when I'd normally be at home watching Nationwide and Z Cars but it was my first Christmas concert and I had an important role playing my recorder. Being at school during the evening was surreal too: the smell of floor polish, the coolness of the plastic chairs, the big patterned curtains at the side of the assembly hall stage – all so familiar between 9am and 3pm, yet it was as if they took on a different importance and somehow seemed less friendly when exposed under a new night-time role. Harsh lights seemed harsher.

The nervous knot in my stomach: ugh, performing! In front of parents and teachers – an audience! This was major stuff for my nine-year-old self. Major. The sort of thing that would worry me so much I'd have sleepless nights.

I think Ben must've felt the same because, the afternoon of the concert, just before home-time, we were sitting opposite each other in the classroom, only a couple of feet of floor between us, when suddenly –absolutely no warning – he threw up violently and copiously right in front of me. I mean, it landed at my feet. And all I could see (and still can) were those peculiarly coloured lumps of whatever the hell it was. That smell of sick, followed swiftly by the smell of Dettol, lodged itself in my nostrils. Then I had to go home and eat my tea (but I couldn't, because all I could think about was Ben's vomit, such was my trauma), as the nervous knot in my stomach grew larger by the second, before going out again to perform God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen on my recorder to scary grown-ups under harsh fluorescent striplights.

That's what Christmas carols evoke for me (it was a long while before I could eat beetroot again too - and I will never ever dice it.)

Happy Christmas!

Tuesday 15 December 2015

To blog or not to blog

I haven't been in a very bloggy mood lately so I may stay subdued for a bit (mind you, having now said that, there's always the chance I'll be unexpectedly overcome by a strong urge to do exactly the opposite. We'll see...)

But life has been bizarre lately; I've met some interesting people and had quite an extraordinary, exciting experience, yet it's also one of the saddest and most distressing periods I've lived through in a long while, as I witness the deteriorating health and cognisance of my dear friend and try to come to terms with it all. Both the ups and the downs, even just within the last week, have been somewhat extreme. Part of me wants to talk about it more, but part of me doesn't, so for now perhaps it's best just to be quiet!

I'll still be dropping by all the usual much-loved places whenever I can - so I'll see you there, if not here!

It is right it should be so:
Man was made for Joy and Woe
And when this we rightly know
Thro the World we safely go

W Blake

Thursday 3 December 2015

Beautiful face

I was greeted by a most beautiful face this morning....

You may have seen him before here

This gorgeous image, the subject of which could so easily have been one of Edward Curtis's models, came courtesy of photographer Barnaby Hall.  Thanks to a wonderful charitable initiative and Mr Hall's personal generosity (thank you!) in donating it, I was so delighted to receive this print in return for a small contribution to Artworks For Aid, who are raising money to help refugees at the 'Jungle' camp in Calais, a cause which I am very happy to be able to support.

I am mesmerised by those clear, expressive eyes - the kind of eyes that could make you fall in love, without the need for words, the kind of eyes that prompt so many questions:  who were you?  what kind of life did you lead?  what were you doing that day... maybe 100 years ago? So I looked it up - by which I mean looked up the artist Barnaby Hall - to see if I could find out more about how this young man's enigmatic and quite haunting portrait could feature in his picture.

Oh wow!

He IS Barnaby Hall!  The shot is an old passport photo of the man himself, taken by a street photographer in Brazil, from about 1971.   Am I allowed to fall a little bit in love with the face of his younger self?!

Saturday 28 November 2015

The next table

We're having a meal down the pub, when I'm aware that two couples, 60s-ish, typical middle Englander types, are seating themselves at the table next to us. Over the following hour or so, without any effort on our part, we learn so much. All about the A14, for a start. And the finer details of waiting for trains. My chips are far more interesting, they could have waxed lyrically about the pleasures of nestling next to a portion of peas, but the loud voice to my right is a dominating force and I am unwillingly but unavoidably pulled to its endless, know-it-all monologues about roads, Sainsbury's and weddings. Why are boring people invariably SO loud, too?

“And the Americans, they can't spell, can they?” the diner says to his companions, whom I suspect are there under sufferance, even (or perhaps especially?) his wife. “Like the way they spell 'colour'” he continues. “C – O – L – O - R.  No 'U'!  And centre! They spell it C – E – N – T – E - R... ”

I mean, he actually has to spell the words out proudly, and with great emphasis... like he needs to... like anyone wouldn't know?

I can't see the man himself; he is to my immediate right and to clock him would require me to make an obvious 90 degree turn of the head. It's enough that my ears are being assaulted, so I save my eyes for appreciating the alpine peaks on my lemon meringue pie and exchanging knowing glances with Mr SDS.

Yes, it could be so much worse – he isn't spouting abusively nor expressing his allegiance to right wing extremism – however, it's just so tiresome, and by the end of the evening I really have had enough. As I turn around to pull on my jacket I come face to face with this verbaliser of inane, high volume tedium and, maybe you had to be there, plus it may not be much at all, but that's when I find some very small degree of consolation.  It's the moment when I notice his huge napkin – and it's tucked into his collar widthways, with corners pointing out jauntily to each side, like a stupid comedy bow-tie.

Tuesday 24 November 2015


Today has been emotional as I visited a friend who is very ill. I prepared myself mentally as well as I could, having read up about the condition; I knew I had to see him, I didn't want to leave it.  Whilst so desperately sad to see a friend in such a different state of health to how I've previously seen him, I am so very glad I spent time with him and stayed strong in his presence. The look on his face when he first saw me enter the room was so lovely, so uplifting and precious – that special twinkle in his eyes, I wouldn't have appreciated before today just how much I could value that.

I don't want to dwell on the sadness of all this though, so instead let me tell you about how we met. A few years ago, not long after I started blogging, someone I didn't know at all left a comment. I was curious as to who he was and how he might have found his way to this site. As he later explained to me, he saw it on a blog list and was immediately intrigued just by the name because he's interested in birds. When he looked through my posts, he was surprised to see how much else resonated. Likewise, curious about my new visitor and interested in his comment, I ended up perusing his blog too and found we had so many topics in common that it was almost uncanny.

A little bit of lovely inter-blog banter ensued. It was clear that we shared interests and experiences in music – punk in particular – as well as in nature, and in art and illustration. We discovered we'd even had the same art tutor for a while, even though at different establishments. We found out we'd both been born in London, both have connections to certain bands, that we like spiders and insects, that we admire the same illustrators, like much of the same comedy, that we'd both had certain family loss experiences and so on and so on, and then we realised that we even live in the same county.

Whereabouts in the same county? I wondered... I left a cryptic comment once, referring to the village I live in just by its initials: “Maybe you know it? It's full of antique shops,” I said.
The reply was quite cryptic too. “Yes, I know it. A fine place.”

Mutual trust established, our comment ping-pong then evolved into email exchange. As our rapport and familiarity built we started to reveal more about our locations. Right. We not only live in the same county but, can you believe it? - we live in the same village!

And then guess what? We not only live in the same village, but we live in the same street!

Thus the virtual friendship became real – I only have to cross the road and walk a few hundred yards down, after all! - and over a few years we've shared many cups of tea and lively, lovely conversations, borrowed each other's books and films and enjoyed one of those easygoing friendships that is simple, unintrusive, unpressured, equal. The best kind, when you don't need to see each other all that often, when nobody is offended if you don't reply straight away to an email, but when you do meet you rabbit for hours and don't want to stop.  I'm so pleased we've had that - and it all started here.

Monday 9 November 2015

Return to sender

My imagination was fired and many feelings stirred when I read about the leather trunk full of 17th Century undelivered letters that had been kept in a Dutch museum, and which are now being studied and transcribed by academics. I love this article, and especially the picture of the beautiful cut-out dove carrying the flaming heart; it looks so fresh, as if it was made and coloured yesterday, not 300 years ago.

I know I'm not alone in my desire to read some of the contents of this correspondence time capsule, to be teased by the fragments of people's lives within it, and to enjoy the strange pleasure of wanting more of something I cannot have.

I thought about the power of letters as I read about some whose important messages could have changed the course of the lives of the readers had they ever been received. Many were written in anxious times of political turmoil. One of them, as described in the article, is dated 1702 and is from a man warning his musician brother not to travel via Paris because a fellow musician had been conscripted into the army there. His warning was worded: “If you come here, do not bring your instrument or anything else.” But no-one read it. What happened? Did the musician brother take his instrument with him to Paris anyway and, if so, did that determine a very different future for him than if he had only read that letter first?

Could such a situation possibly exist now? If you never received that letter offering you that perfect job you went for? Or if the envelope with the large cheque in it, posted to you by an anonymous philanthropist, never arrived? And nor did the proclamation of love written inside a Valentine card by someone who secretly admired you...?  I guess not... there would be emails, and texts, and follow-up phone calls, not inky missives sent by horse-drawn carriage.

These are stories without endings nor beginnings, but they're stories I really would love to read, and I do hope the best of them will be published some day.

Did they ever meet on the sunny road?

Wednesday 4 November 2015

The bag I'm in

“Is it retro?” asked Mr SDS when I told him, rather unfairly, that I'd just ordered a book but I wouldn't reveal what it was. The answer was “yes” and it's perhaps for that reason that I didn't want to discuss it before buying it; almost like I didn't want to be dissuaded or to hear myself justifying my rash purchase. We do sometimes have a difference of opinion when it comes to things 'retro'.

I'm interested in the past – but that certainly doesn't mean I don't like the present, there's no mutual exclusion.  However, Mr SDS would readily admit that he has a bit of a downer on the past because he's had a little too much exposure to people who are stuck in it - I mean, stuck immovably - and I completely agree with him that it doesn't seem a very healthy place to be. It particularly irritates him when folk fixate on it and go on about how much better everything was “back then”. Likewise, it doesn't strike me as being much fun to truly hanker for days gone by - the present suits me fine and I don't think too far ahead either - but that doesn't prevent my enjoyment of a little retro indulgence now and then. Well, you probably already know that from reading this blog.

For me it's just about relating; connecting past, present and future and tying it together.  Being a part of it all. Everything before us has shaped the now, everything is valid. In particular, old pictures of “the way we were” sum my feelings up beautifully and make me smile and that's why, when I saw this book advertised in the Guardian (currently discounted with free postage too!) I had to buy it. It's 'The Bag I'm In' by Sam Knee (Cicada) and the blurb which originally caught my eye goes:

Youth subculture in 20th Century Britain is a unique phenomenon. Throughout the decades, young people sought to define themselves sartorially, reflecting their identity in terms of regionalism, class and crucially, musical taste, through their clothes... The look of each movement is captured in meticulously researched, previously unseen archive photography.... a key resource for fashion enthusiasts, musos and cultural historians, as well as a powerful, graphic document of Britain's fashion evolution through the ages.

It arrived this morning while Mr SDS was out and I'd been dying all day to take a break from painting imaginary puppies to have a good look through. At last! It's a chunky hardback book with nearly 300 pages, and I could tell straight away that it's been put together by someone who gets it, someone who understands and who's been there or, when writing about things that were before his time, has checked all the facts. I do find it annoying, for instance, when you're watching a TV programme with a narrative specifically about 1977 punk but it's illustrated with film of kids who are very much from a later punk incarnation, all ten-inch long crazy-colour mohicans and The Exploited emblazoned on the backs of their studded bike jackets... no!  There are no such errors here.  Instead, we're reminded of the detail: of shop names like Melanddi and Flip, of bands as diverse The Milkshakes, Disorder, John's Children, of Gibson creepers, Swell Maps badges, Poison Girls patches... There are grainy photos of '60s beatniks and mods, some early shots of band members before they were well-known, e.g. Lee Brilleaux pictured with the Southside Jug Band in 1967, plus plenty of heartwarming images from the '70s and '80s of ordinary kids whom I know felt extraordinary at the time - I know because these could be images of you and me, our friends, our schoolmates, our brothers and sisters.

* 'Why and how music youth scenes reach such a level of diversity and focused intensity in Britain is a side effect of island culture and the distinctive class system in this country. By and large, British music scenes are working and middle class in origin. The upper classes don't have the regionality or subversive sartorial suss to create such subtle nuances. The seeds of the scenes originate in the generic state school system; secondary moderns, comprehensives and grammar schools – where kids exist on a street level around other kids and cultures in the great mishmash of society that makes up Britain.'

Anyway, Mr SDS came home this evening and I showed him my lovely new book. I really hoped he'd like it, and see what's appealing and touching about it, in spite of possible resistance to its obvious retro theme. I was just flicking through it when my fingertips paused unknowingly at the chapter on Anarcho Punk.... and there it was, a photo of his old band. Above it was another photo which included a poster for them for a gig he played, where I was too. Ohh! We remembered it well.  That's what I mean: it's about relating; connecting the past with the present and the future and tying it together.  Being a part of it all.

It's a great book!

*  from 'The Bag I'm In' by Sam Knee (Cicada)

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Something has bit me

It must've looked quite bizarre -  I was walking up the hill yesterday afternoon when I suddenly stopped, bent over, grabbed my calf and even let out a yelp – but I was in such pain and shock! It was as if someone had stuck a red hot needle into my leg. I rubbed it through my jeans but it just felt worse... awful... searing...  Don't believe I've ever felt such an intensely sharp stabbing sensation, worse than a wasp sting. Then I think I saw something drop out from under the hem but I didn't even consider checking what it might be, just had to get home as quickly as possible, panting.

Every rushed step made me wince and the burning feeling was spreading up my leg making walking even more painful too. What on earth?!

I was so relieved to shut the front door behind me at last – had to get my jeans down asap – could hardly pull them off quickly enough! There was a small red, raw mark on my calf, and a circle of inflamed skin rapidly expanding around it. Quick – Google search – insect bites...? Spider? False widow...? What to do!

Must admit I was a bit concerned when the prickling pain didn't stop after several hours (although it started to feel oddly quite nice after a while, you know how some can) and the inflammation got to about 4 inches across.  But by the end of the night it began to subside, so it seems no harm done. Now, just slightly red but not hurting any more, it looks as if there are tiny bite marks in broken skin. Still not sure who the culprit was but if it was a spider trapped in my jeans - the "dreaded" false widow? - then we walked together in very close proximity for an hour or so before it decided to sink its fangs into my flesh (and these jeans are tight!).  I'm checking / shaking all clothes before I put them on in future...  Or maybe it was a horse fly, which flew up my leg as I walked along?  Bicycle clips could come in handy.

Bit peeved though, to be honest: (a) I was just coming back from having done a good deed when it happened and (b) I'm always trying to give spiders/creepy crawlies some positive PR, endlessly saving them from death-by-hoover/drowning/flattening, etc. and this is how I'm thanked...  Does Karma really exist?!

I hope I haven't made you anxious about biting critters now; here's a song to cheer you up if so.  I found myself singing it last night (with slightly tweaked lyrics).

Sunday 11 October 2015


It was quite by chance that, last night, I ended up watching most of the BBC2 documentary about Ted Hughes ('Stronger Than Death' available on BBC iPlayer here.)   It wasn't even something I'd considered tuning into, but within seconds of stumbling upon it I was completely drawn in and stayed.  I really love it when that happens.  It's the opposite of disappointment, when something's not even on my radar but then ends up registering quite deeply, it's when I learn things that I didn't even realise I wanted to know, and I didn't even have to try.  So my interest in Ted's life and work was piqued and I spent an hour after the programme had finished avidly reading about him - and Sylvia Plath - topping up what little I knew about him previously.

I have an uneasy, ambivalent relationship with poetry in general... difficult to explain... but I veer between viewing it, on the one hand, as being an indulgence for the pretentious, the over-romantic and the angsty, yet on the other hand, if I just let it in, appreciating what can be moving, inspiring, beautiful, funny.  I suppose some prejudices came from reading crap poetry posing as something else, and from witnessing the sort of protagonists who lack a sense of humour.  Maybe I'm from a generation which finds it easier to accept poetry in the form of a song lyric. But when I was a child, when I had no concept of any kind of pompous approach to it, I loved poetry...  I loved my poetry books: Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden Of Verses, Spike Milligan's Silly Verse For Kids, T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book Of Practical Cats.  I never had a Ted  Hughes poetry book, although we did read his novel Iron Man at primary school (alongside such classics as Stig of the Dump by Clive King) and I found it quite hard-going... maybe it was just a bit scary for me.  Perhaps I should re-visit it.

At primary school we also read and enjoyed the poetic works of Eleanor Farjeon, Edward Lear, Adrian Mitchell,  Hilaire Belloc and Christina Rossetti (with the added bonus of many of them being illustrated by Edward Ardizzone and Edward Gorey, whose art I still adore).  Then we'd have to write our own poems about Autumn and favourite pets, etc. and we learned that they didn't even have to rhyme, we just stretched our imaginations out to their furthest points, then edited them into short lines.  I loved it.   I loved the way a well-chosen combination of words could convey so much, could change things, like a kind of alchemy - and I thought one day I'd like to be a poet too.

Anyway, I found the documentary fascinating and thought-provoking.  There are some candid and touching insights from Ted and Sylvia's daughter, Frieda, to whom I warmed immediately, and interviews with friends and associates which were enlightening. Plus, it reminded me to keep being true to what I feel deep down, and that is: not to dismiss the poetic just because, sometimes, it might seem a bit poncey.

Excerpt from 'My Brother Bert' (for children) by Ted Hughes

Pets are the hobby of my brother Bert,
He used to go to school with a mouse in his shirt.

His hobby it grew, as some hobbies will,
And grew and grew and GREW until -

Oh don't breathe a word, pretend you haven't heard,
A simply appalling thing has occurred -

The very thought makes me iller and iller
Bert's brought home a gigantic gorilla!

If you think that's really not such a scare,
What if it quarrels with his Grizzly Bear?....

Thursday 1 October 2015

Shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather

In a room with dark walls and long, purple, velvet curtains, the high chandeliers emitting only the dimmest glow from above, I was a voyeur. It was warm, and in the background slow, hypnotic music played, as I peered at the objects of desire in all their leather, fur, jewels, ribbons and buckles... out of reach... untouchable. Sex, seduction, submission and power were recurring themes throughout. Pleasure and pain.


Not just any old shoes. Well, some old shoes, yes.... shoes that were centuries old... others which looked like cars (complete with tail-lights, the Pradas worn by Kylie), fairytale slippers (including Cinderella's glass Swarovski one created for the recent Disney film) and tiny, tiny Chinese shoes to fit women's feet that had been bound so as not to exceed the “ideal” length of 7cm. 7 cm! 

(I did feel slightly sick at this thought.)
(I still feel slightly sick.)

The lovely V&A, one of my favourite places in London, is hosting a fascinating exhibition – Shoes: Pleasure and Pain. I'm sure I wasn't alone in wanting to visualise the original wearer of the knee-high red leather boots, with 40 pairs of lace holes threaded with gold braid, lined in silk, so curvily shaped to emphasise her slim ankles and sensual calves. She would have been wearing them nearly a hundred years ago.

Other pictures formed in my head on seeing the Christian Louboutin/David Lynch collaboration, the ultimate in fetish shoes. Like ballet pumps with heels which bent round so they were parallel to the base of the shoe, these were made to be...

impossible to walk in, so that

     the wearer of them

          can only


And they were designed to be viewed from behind too.... their soles are completely transparent.

A picture is forming in your head as well, isn't it? It's difficult for it not to, I know.

Men's shoes too: I wouldn't want anyone to think this was a show that could only interest women. Glorious 1950s winkle-pickers with impossibly pointed toes, biker style boots with straps and buckles (which I noted were from Shelly's... a place much frequented by my friends and me in the '80s).  High-heeled and fancily decorated in beads and studs were the boots worn by those most rugged and macho of men: cowboys. Glam rock platform boots and jewel-encrusted mojaris worn by Indian royalty 200 years ago defied gender stereotypes too. If you've any interest in history, design and society, you can learn a huge amount just from looking at shoes through the ages and, like so many things, they're a reminder that much of what we think of as 'modern' has been done before - long before.

I knew I'd be on foot most of the day, and have to jump onto tube trains and walk down busy streets, so I wore some comfortably worn-in zipped ankle boots. The chunky heels are wearing down and the toes are square. But it was obvious from the display I saw that, throughout history, the most significant and desirable footwear is, of course, not actually meant to be walked in.

Saturday 26 September 2015

Random access memory #3

The outer sleeve of the fourth (or was it fifth?) album I ever bought was the thickest and stiffest I'd seen. The card was really sort of heavy, and had a wider than normal spine. There was a particular texture to it that made it feel different too; perhaps because of its matt silver finish.

I bought it some time in 1978, can't recall exactly when, but I remember playing it a lot and for some reason I have a specific memory of putting it on just before heading out to a party. I was kneeling in front of our ancient portable electric heater, a cumbersome thing, which fizzed and popped and clicked in a rather ominous way while emitting an intense heat the smell of burnt dust, but it was the best way to dry my hair. I simply knelt in front of it with my head bent forward so that my hair hung upside down and then when I looked up again, it had dried at right angles to my scalp. A light application of egg-white then set it into spikes.  I was doing all this while listening to the two-minute genius of Love Battery and I Don't Mind, etc.

I loved every track on that silver-sleeved album, but Moving Away From The Pulsebeat was probably the biggest surprise to me on first hearing and seemed like a grand finale.

The party was at a village hall a few miles away, with 1960s curtains at the windows and a little kitchenette area. Apart from a few school-friends I didn't know many there - except for The Postman. There was this cheery young postman who we used to see in town all the time, he was sort of punky but not quite, I mean he knew the music but didn't sport the look. Really smiley and always had a quip or a cheeky greeting. I don't know if I ever even knew his name... I probably did... but it's gone now. However, I can see his face as if it was yesterday, a little bit rodent-like, with blonde hair and a few too many teeth. Knowing him was really nice because he was one of those people with whom you could flirt a little, even though he was some years older - old enough to be a postman! - yet at the same time you knew nothing would ever come of it. That made it comfortable and fun without any of the stress of wondering what might happen next.

The Postman was a bad influence on my friends and me that night, though. We were only 15 and drinking orange juice, but he took us aside and told us about the vodka – he'd hidden it in the kitchenette. I'd never had vodka before. I don't know how much of it I drank but of course it was too much, because he kept topping up my paper cup and the more I had the less I cared. Further memories are a bit sketchy, but I do know that I ended the night by getting off with a young long-haired bloke. It was so wrong. He was wearing a greatcoat too. So wrong. We went into a back room and snogged in the dark amid the stacked up wooden chairs, table tennis bats and god knows what else - things with corners and edges. He didn't even take his coat off. It's going to sound bad but I know that I got a peculiar kick out of our complete incompatibility. I certainly never wanted to see him again; I couldn't connect with him on any level but this brief physical fling with 'the enemy' felt strangely defiant – rebellious, I suppose. I was rebelling against my own rebellion. Weird. Well, I was young and drunk... he must've been too.

I was back at that particular village hall for another party a few years later. The friend whose birthday it was had booked the Waxwork Dummies to play there. I don't remember a thing about them, though. Instead, my abiding memory of that night is the attention paid to my boyfriend, the young Mr SDS, who was sporting a fairly spectacular black eye. Just a few evenings beforehand he'd been waiting alone for his bus home from my place when three blokes walked past and, completely unprovoked, one of them punched him in the face. Awful. But he got a lot of mileage out of that black eye that night and - isn't it odd? - it did rather suit him.

Monday 14 September 2015

Huffing and puffing

I was stood in a Post Office queue today, a couple of places in front of that man who you know. I know you know him, because he gets everywhere. He's been in nearly every queue I've stood in, in nearly every place I've ever been over many months and years; I'm sure you can say the same.

The minute he walks in through the door of the Post Office, or the bank, or the Co-op, and sees the queue, he starts. He huffs audibly, and puffs too. In his lengthy repertoire of sounds he also includes a tut, a tsk, a sigh, a tch, a pfft, a chuff and a sniff. He may pepper his puffing with a few half-finished sentences, along the lines of, “Oh now she's...” or “Oh what's he...?” as he obsesses over every action and interaction taking place behind the counter, then he pfffs and he phews and he hhhhs again. All of this is to no-one in particular but you get the feeling he wants to engage you in his show of disapproving impatience, hopes that you'll join in perhaps, or at least express some kind of solidarity – a casual eyes-heavenward glance or an insincere smile would do.

I felt so calm until he arrived – acceptant of the long wait, disengaging my mental gears and letting my brain coast for a while. I read a couple of posters on the wall, although I couldn't tell you now what they were about. I only noticed that the woman pictured in one looked a lot like the lady I see walking her dog every morning, but without the frizzy hair. I registered that all the generic white type on red packaging and advertising was a bit overpowering en masse. Far too much red everywhere. Would it look better if it was blue? Probably not. I looked at my phone and vaguely realised my clock is a couple of minutes slow. Must sort that out. I observed that the woman a few places in front of me had unusually thick ankles. What can you do about thick ankles? Not a lot... only wear trousers? Well, not only – I mean, wear a top too.... That kind of thing. It gets you through for as long as it needs to, an array of pointless thoughts filling the void of waiting, it's just what you do, just what you have to do.

But Mr Huff'n'Puff disturbed my relative peace. Once he started it was impossible to tune out. Huff puff tsk tsk “oh now what's she...” pfft huh sigh puff.....  it's incessant! I wish I could've told him to please keep quiet: it's simply a queue, it won't move any faster just because you're making all that fucking noise, I suppose I should feel sorry for you but I can't any more because you're your own worst enemy and all you're doing is getting to the rest of us now which is worse than just being stuck in the queue in the first place – in fact we were fine before you came in and made us all acutely aware of just how unfine it is. Grrr!  See what I mean...! I was ok until....

Next time you see him – or hear him (you're bound to soon) – do you reckon you might have a quiet word with him.... please?!  Oh and... he has a sister too.

Wednesday 9 September 2015

Life in the undergrowth

Sometimes the things that thrill me are just plain weird and I don't know who - or what - to turn to as a means of expressing my excitement.  Inevitably, I come here.  You have been warned....

Yesterday evening I was snooping around in the garden in the hope of witnessing some interesting creepy crawly action.  I don't know quite what... woodlice fighting or spiders weaving or simply a snail munching its way audibly through a rotting leaf... any of that would've been great.  But I was rewarded with something I've never seen before, a little natural event that I found completely fascinating.  Out of the corner of my eye I just noticed this:

I didn't think much of it at first... it just looked like something a bird might have regurgitated, hmm.

Then I took a closer look and noticed a slight movement and I realised something really rather special was happening.

Well, something special in the world of the crane fly...!  It was emerging from its pupal casing.  

It was like something out of Alien - in slow motion.  Above you can just see its legs starting to unfold as it slowly struggles to get its whole body out of the pupal casing on the right of the pic.  Before its metamorphosis into this newly formed daddy-long-legs, it was an aptly named leatherjacket.

Now you can really see its legs and make out the closed wings on its back.  The stripes on its back (above) seem huge and dark, nothing like the pattern or colour we see on the crane flies that flit around our windows at night and fly haphazardly into our lights.  But during the process of emerging, this little creature's body stretches to around one and a half times its normal size.

By the time it had pulled most of itself out, its body was shrinking and the stripes were already starting to fade.

It finally managed to emerge fully, turned around and looked back at its discarded 'jacket'...

...which it then sat on for a while.  A long while, in fact (my knees were really aching by this point).

And then suddenly it went rushing off and opened its wings. I was ridiculously excited at having seen this emergence, which took about an hour or so from when I found it.  So I wished it well, and hoped it doesn't get eaten by a bird, swatted at by humans, burned by a light-bulb, trapped in a spiderweb, or have its legs ritually pulled off by a cruel child.

If it avoids those hazards it will live for a week or two, in which time it doesn't even need to eat...its sole purpose in this short stage of its life cycle is to mate.  Maybe that's not so bad.

Saturday 5 September 2015

Triceratops for toddlers and the man in black

This weekend I'm drawing dinosaurs.  I'm being paid to draw dinosaurs! Sometimes I think I really must have one of the loveliest jobs in the world.

Here's the Man In Black to help inspire...

Tuesday 1 September 2015

Making pop history

I had a lovely email via this blog from a researcher working on a new project from BBC Four, she thought some of the posts here would make suitable stories for it and asked if I'd like to contribute. The project has such a relatable and appealing theme - The People's History of Pop - so I was intrigued.  At the moment it's a crowdsourcing website, in partnership with Historypin, collecting anecdotes and associated memorabilia from all aspects of people's pop music experiences (not just meaning 'pop' music, but all genres).  The plan is for a BBC Four TV series to be made around it next year... sounds interesting!

Anyway, the PHOP site is welcoming more contributions:  photos, ticket stubs, teenage diary entries, video clips, etc. etc. - any memorabilia that you've kept and that helps to tell the history of popular music via your own experiences.  Go on... I bet there's something or other you still have that you could show (and as for you over there, I know you have!).  In some ways I'm wishing I'd kept more now, but I'm always clearing stuff out and mostly only retain the memories...  All those t-shirts, badges, diaries... all gone.  Still, even if you don't have yours either, the website is definitely worth a visit and the TV series should be fun.

Here's the link:  The People's History of Pop  (and I took up the suggestion and added a few little pieces to it too, which you may have seen before here or on my other blog).

The perfect lyrics!

Wednesday 26 August 2015

The caterpillar

It took a couple of hours to seal itself itself up safely inside the nettle leaf, pulling each side together with its thread, like a sewing machine.

Sunday 23 August 2015

Bit on the side

I'm putting together another blog, as a kind of side-dish to this one.  All the same posts have been, or will be, on here, so for some it may be a repetition - it's just that the other new one will be like a specifically edited version of Sun Dried Sparrows.

It'll focus on the theme of growing up and the past, with a leaning towards (but not exclusively) my musical experiences.  So - no birds, no outpourings about families, no spiders or snails, no mention of my current work or art or country walks, etc.   However, there may well be reference to '70s childhood summers and the rite of passage into punk...

I'm getting it up and running with just a couple of posts at a time and intend to add more each week, so if you haven't read them here before, please feel free to visit

Saturday 22 August 2015

Random access memory #2

I heard a song the other day - I can't even remember what or where and it was barely in my consciousness - but there was a staccato guitar in it and it prompted a thought.  A fleeting one - one of those that drifts in vaguely and out again quickly, like a faint wisp of smoke.  "That sounds a bit like Marquee Moon" went the thought, and promptly disappeared.

But it came back and this time it brought along a random memory - of late Summer 1977, the weather a bit like now, when I had just turned fourteen.  I was venturing - half of me tentatively, and the other half of me very brazenly -  into a lot of new experiences,  most of which revolved around boys and punk.  I'd only bought one proper grown-up album so far - the eponymous Clash first - and was saving my pocket money for more 12" vinyl.  What were they, about £2.49, something like that?  I couldn't just go out and buy one, it had to be planned. So the cheapo singles bin in Martins was always worth a look in case I could pick up something for 10p, something I didn't have to scrimp for nor plan, but something I could actually take home the same day and play.

A lot of band names were becoming familiar;  I was latching on to what I thought 'fitted' the punk scene, but often without having first heard the music.  I mean, bands like The Cortinas had the honour of getting their name carefully written on my school science overall in permanent black pen alongside the more obvious ones like Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols et al, even though I hadn't yet heard one track by them (the Cortinas, that is) .  I got it wrong sometimes... like, I thought Dead Fingers Talk must be young, new and very raw just on the name alone... wrote that name on my school satchel too... they weren't, though, were they?  And it was the same with Television.  It was a name which was linked to all this new stuff I was exploring with limited means of doing so, and I imagined that they must be making songs at least as aggressive as White Riot or snarly as Pretty Vacant, whoever/whatever they were.  So when I flicked through the cheapo singles bin in Martins and saw the 7" of 'Marquee Moon', I was quick to hand over my 10p and dead excited at the prospect of hearing it.

I remember walkng home with it feeling really chuffed.  I had to go past the petrol station which was usually a bit nerve-wracking because there were always some young guys working there and I didn't know quite how to strike that balance between feeling horribly shy and yet also wanting their attention.  Just having to walk past was a big deal.  Funny how you remember these odd details but I recall very vividly that this time there was a new petrol attendant there, a tall bloke with acne.  He smiled at me.  Actually he stared.  I think I got more of a look than I really wanted.  I didn't fancy him at all... but I sort of wanted him to fancy me... I smiled back.  Then I immediately regretted it, in case I was giving him the come-on, which I didn't really want to even though my heart was beating fast and oh now I'd never be able to walk past that garage again.  It would make it really difficult going into town because that was the main route,  I'd have to take that funny detour down the other side of the hill.... oh what was I thinking.....   Ha, they were confusing times, those early teens.

Anyway, I got home, unwrapped my new purchase and put it on the turntable on the family stereogram.  I was so excited.. hopeful for some thrashing chords, some fierce drumming, hadn't a clue what a song called Marquee Moon might be about, but I'd heard of The Marquee...

Erm, it wasn't what I expected at all.  It was weird.  And the B-side was more of the same!

So, I had to work really hard to convince myself that I could, perhaps, sort of, like it.  Or I could at least grow to like it... one day... maybe.  I played it again.  My sister came downstairs and said she thought it sounded a bit like Yes.  I didn't know what Yes were like but that didn't seem to me to be a good thing.

Well, I kept the single anyway, in my little cardboard box which I'd covered in an offcut of orange patterned wallpaper, and it stayed there amid what I deemed to be far more worthy 7"s by Buzzcocks, the Adverts, etc.  I did grow to like it in the end, although I have to admit, it took time.  And even now I can't be sure, I wonder if I like it really only because I just can't separate it from that time, that feeling, that age and stage in life, the mood it evokes... the memories.  These things are so inextricably linked.

I also got brave and walked past the petrol station again, continuing my ambivalent flirtation with a boy I didn't fancy one bit.  I never grew to like him, although even then there was this naive teenage thought process which went along similar lines to my feelings about the record... like, maybe I would if I really tried... should I just keep playing him again in case....?!

Tuesday 18 August 2015


Just a quickie music post tonight and it's a new one.  It's also a very new one on me because I only heard it for the first time a few hours ago, and since then I've been jumping up and down thinking, who can I tell?!  Why, you, of course!

Mr SDS heard it earlier on the radio in the car, and said he thought I'd like it because it was a bit weird and arty. (He knows how to flatter me, that man.)  Described by Greg James this afternoon (yes, on Radio 1!) as being what you might get if you put David Bowie, Village People and Franz Ferdinand into a blender, WHITE are a Glasgow five piece and this is their new single 'Blush'.   I'd add that there is also a dollop of Edwyn Collins, a spoonful of Billy Mackenzie and perhaps even the merest pinch of Peter Murphy (sort of), oh and a sprinkling of sax that made me think of Blurt of all things.  Funk it all up and serve immediately!  I know that doesn't make sense but who cares.

Saturday 15 August 2015

So, who are Robert & the Uptights?

Something is amiss in Coronation Street.

The lovely Lloyd (soul aficionado and part-time DJ with a big record collection) played by the lovely Craig Charles (soul aficionado and part-time DJ with a big record collection) has lost one of his singles.

It's by Robert & the Uptights and it's worth £1000.  Some of us here in the UK know what's become of Lloyd's rare and treasured soul 45 but I'm keeping shtum in case anyone is behind on their Corrie episodes.  But that's not the issue here.  What I really want to know is, does a Robert & the Uptights single actually exist outside Weatherfield?!

A quick internet search brings up a picture... but there's no mention of it on 45cat.  A highly knowledgeable and reliable source tells me it doesn't appear on any of their soul compilations or lists (thank you!). Could it be a hype?  Or a spoof? Could someone behind the scenes in Corrie, perhaps a soul aficionado and part-time DJ with a big record collection, have mocked up a convincing looking label and put it out there just to get us wondering?  Of course I'd love to know it was genuine.  Surely I can't be the only one who wants to know if a Robert & the Uptights single exists in the real world...  (or can I?!)

Monday 10 August 2015

Family ties

Sadly, I have a funeral to attend this week, for a lovely elderly relative.  It will be a fairly untraditional and very low key affair; she was from the secular and somewhat eccentric intellectual side of the family - my dad's.

I'd love to think I could be even just a little like her in my final years - still attending educational courses, travelling and embracing new technology into her early 90s and keeping healthy and youthful until very recently.  Funerals are so hard, aren't they, and this will be no exception, especially as I feel desperately sad for the husband she leaves behind -  my dad's brother.  In recent years, I've seen more of him than I have my father.  And this is where it gets weird and is the reason I feel the need to write something here... because my dad may be at the funeral too...

So, I was trying to work out how many times in total I've seen my father since he and my mum divorced around 35 years ago... There can't have been more than about a dozen occasions and the last time was around 2005.   He lives the other side of the country, frequently forgets my birthday (as he did again this year); he's only phoned a handful of times and then only when there's been big news (like when he was getting married!)  Oh and one time to ask if I could record something off the telly for him when he was at a conference in Japan....  that may not sound so odd until you know that it was completely out of the blue - we hadn't been in touch for a couple of years beforehand and I didn't know he was in Japan.  So our relationship seems pretty non-existent.   I know that on paper, or in the eyes of anyone more judgmental, it might seem like he's not a good father, yet I feel the need to explain that he is a good man - he's just, well I don't know, but I think perhaps he has a degree of Asperger's. He's highly intelligent, something of a mathematical genius in fact (god knows where those genes went - down the back of the sofa?) and I know he has a kind heart and a very gentle nature.  He's just 'different' - and I really don't think he knows how to 'be' when it comes to interacting with his two daughters.  I simply think that we are not a part of his world, but - and it's difficult to explain - there is nothing deliberate or harsh about that, it's just the way it is.

Anyway, I'm just airing this now because tonight I'm full of so many mixed emotions at the thought of seeing him, particularly on such a sad occasion, that I'm already steeling myself for it.  I may report back, or I may not -  but I've realised that however bizarre and confusing it might be,  I actually really do want him to be at the funeral, because I don't want the next time I see him to be at his.

Thursday 30 July 2015

Bring on the dancing boys

Nice arse

You know how it is - or at least, please tell me you do - when sometimes you just can't help looking at something you feel you really shouldn't.  No matter how much you may deny it to others, you can't kid yourself: you're looking, and looking again, and getting off on it.  It's a weakness.

Well I'm coming clean - this is mine (or at least one of them): men dancing in ways you don't expect.  I get this weird thrill from it.  I think I could watch all of these on an infinite loop...I just can't take my eyes off them.



Honestly, they just make me happy.

I mean, first of all, there's pin-up boy Jim Dandy from Black Oak Arkansas.  He's made an appearance on this blog before but, as I say, it's a weakness.

He starts to get particularly interesting around 2 minutes 20 seconds in on this clip.  Watch him strut his stuff - pull up a chair and open that bag of cheese'n'onion crisps (don't worry about the crumbs, you can hoover them up later).   It feels so wrong... but yet so right.

Samuel T Herring's name alone is the stuff of my dreams.  Then I saw him dance.  I wish the frontman from Future Islands didn't look quite so much like the bewildered love child of Elvis and Norman Wisdom but you can't have everything.  

"Mr Grimsdale!  Mr Grimsdale!"

Now... keep your eyes on the tambourine player from the 1910 Fruitgum Company on the right in this clip below from the German show Beat Club, performing Goody Goody Gumdrops (or cumdrops as I accidentally typed just now... honestly I did!...I know, I know: you didn't come here to read such filth).  God, I love him.

Finally, the Fine Young Cannibals and guitarist Andy Cox's bendy legs. Bassist David Steele is at it too. I'm thinking of those cardboard puppet things. Actually I can hardly bear to watch.  More!

Don't judge me.

Thursday 23 July 2015

Dem bones... (slight return)

I was recently reminded about a chicken bone necklace (thanks to a post over at the fine blog Across The Kitchen Table).  Oh, I loved that necklace - for a particular period at least.  Through what you might call the 'goth' phase, though it seemed different then ('81/'82). Anyway, I mentioned it here once a few years ago (when I was still quite new to blogging) and, being stuck for time and inspiration at the mo, thought I'd give that old post another airing... here it is.  Sorry for being so lazy!

 ~~ O o ~ :~ x ~: ~ o O ~~

The other day I mentioned to someone that, when we were children, my older sister had a pickled bat in her bedroom.  I know that sounds weird out of context but, for my teenage sibling who excelled at Biology, the obvious thing to do with a dead (but otherwise perfect) pipistrelle that had been found in the garden was to preserve it in formaldehyde and keep it in a jam-jar in her room.  It then formed part of a display that would have been at home in any scientific laboratory or natural history museum. If my memory serves me well the pickled numbers included a fish eye and a chicken’s foot, which were given space alongside various dried butterflies, a sheep’s skull and a tank full of (thankfully alive) African aquatic toads.  It may sound like something out of the set of a horror B movie or perhaps some strange herbal medicine emporium but as she was my big sis it seemed normal to me, and nurtured a keen early interest in all things natural.

If only I'd realised the value of drawing such things from life then rather than just drawing characters from my imagination, I could have sneaked into her room and filled a sketchbook with studies of these fascinating objects too.  But I think perhaps it did spark a rather subtle fascination for bones.  I’ve no desire to see or find any human bones, although I did like looking at the repro human skeleton we had hanging up in the art-room at school, but I do like it when I’ve been digging in the garden and come across a tiny bone from a small rodent or perhaps a bird.  They're so fragile and yet so strong, so insubstantial looking but so robust.  When you look at a bird’s skull, a casing so fine that it seems more delicate even than eggshell and the connecting bones as thin as a thread of cotton, it's a wonder that the bird itself could ever have been so strong and unbreakable to get through its life at all. 

It’s with some embarrassment that I recall using bones to make my own jewellery.  It seemed right at the time – listening to music that was part tribal, part goth (Southern Death Cult being favourite) – to accessorise with some strange ancient or ethnic objects, especially anything that could be found for free.  So, my mum boiled up some chicken bones from a roast dinner (I didn't eat roast dinners!) and a friend from college brought in some of his dog’s old teeth, and I strung them together with some wooden beads.  Here's a drawing I did at the time of the necklace I wore daily (usually teamed up with some earrings I’d made from the smaller bones).

Proof that my fascination with natural history has remained is that I still feel compelled to keep any bird skulls I find (although not in the bedroom...).   I think the small one below is from a goldfinch and the larger one from a starling.  Whilst I always prefer to see these wonderful birds alive and well, I like looking at the skulls just to remind myself of how amazing these delicate little creatures are underneath their feathers.  And if I were ever to find a dead bat, I might just be tempted to pickle it as well.

Thursday 16 July 2015

Hello, it's me

Oh, sorry it's been a while!  Are you well, everything ok?  Hope so.

I've been immersed in work.  The publishers - lovely Slovenians - have been totally brilliant, giving me a completely free rein on the whole book, leaving me to my own devices and ideas (I much prefer this to a prescriptive brief) and then approving it all very quickly without any changes (unusual!), so it's been an absolute dream job.

If only the bloody illustrator wasn't being a pain in the arse.  Now she's started on the final artwork and she's not happy with anything, keeps changing her mind, going for a new style, nothing she does is good enough, she keeps re-painting, trying out different paper, throwing things away, getting frustrated.  Working all hours and still there aren't enough in the day; you should see the bags under her eyes.*

Bloody artists!  An album title springs to mind: 'The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect'.  Couldn't remember where I'd heard it, anyway I had to look it up and see it's by Todd Rundgren.  I'm not familiar with much of his output but I do remember his multi-coloured hair, and I do like a couple of tracks by his early band the Nazz.  So here's one of them while I try and sort out this so-called illustrator.  She needs a chill pill.

*Not helped by her mobile phone going off at 2.42 this morning.  There was no caller, no text,  no voicemail, no record of anything or anyone in the log.  It just went off on its own....

Wednesday 1 July 2015


Our friend Singing Bear of the excellent Warp Drive Duffle Buttons posted a nice tribute to Chris Squire yesterday.  News of his death prompted some spins of this brilliant B-side by The Syn from 1967 here at SDS Towers.  It was one of the first psych/freakbeat/whatever-you-want-to-call-it tracks I'd heard in the '80s, courtesy of the Psycho label's 'Perfumed Garden' comps (this is on the first one).

If you haven't heard it in a while - or at all - go on, treat yourself! It'll make you feel good.  More mod/soul than psych really, to these ears.

I'm off to give a talk to the WI in a couple of hours.  I'll bring you back some cake!

Monday 29 June 2015

Bristol diary - part 6. Safe from harm

Did you know that lobsters can live for up to a hundred years in captivity? I learn this while admiring Patrick the Giant Lobster at Bristol Aquarium. He's fifty.

I love watching cute clownfish, very 'Finding Nemo', diligently attending to the tentacles of anemones (and that's not easy to say).  A group of schoolchildren are so excited that they beat out a rhythm with their feet on the wooden floor which could be mistaken for an African drum ensemble, and we watch delightful rays and wrasse get their lunch together.

It's an education... as are the exhibits in the waterside M Shed... dinosaur bones, a book bound in the skin of an executed man, posters, bus tickets, shoes, fossils...oh you know, loads of other stuff too... I forget now...all from this lovely city.  On one of many screens in the museum I watch TV news footage from the 1980 St Pauls Riot.

Later I ascend Christmas Steps, look in some unusual shop windows...

...then find the mysterious scarlet painted door that opens to The Red Lodge Museum, where portraits in the oak panelled rooms seem almost alive (they always make me feel funny, like you know their subjects personally).

I wander again, take some very random photos...

"Nice things in stock"... 


stop off at St Nicholas Market to absorb it all for one last time.


Unfortunately I don't make it to half the places I wanted to... I never get to Stokes Croft, or take a tour round the SS Great Britain (a queue earlier was too much).  And now it's my last night here.  I'm catching a bus to meet my friend and see the UWE art students' degree show at Bower Ashton tomorrow morning, and then getting the train home after lunch.  I'll just have to come again.

Same time, same place, next year?

Thursday 25 June 2015

Bristol diary - part 5. Hell is round the corner

... So I'm standing outside the Arnolfini with three men, one of whom is holding a hand-made contraption up to my face, like a miniature slide viewer/binoculars thingamajig housed resourcefully in cardboard (!)  Kind of Blue Peter-goes-hi-tech... an old cornflakes packet perhaps... some sticky-back plastic.  I haven't a clue what's about to happen.

This is all new to me

The 'proposition' was to help test out a new app they're developing and be interviewed about it.  Why... what were you thinking it might be?!

 “Tell me what you think,” says the smiley tall chap with the floppy hair. He has a rather lovely voice too, now I can't see him, what with this whatchamacallit covering my eyes.  "Say what you see..."  I don't think this is going to be an episode of Catchphrase.

In fact I can't see anything. Nothing at first, just blackness. He and his bearded cohorts could be rifling through my handbag for all I know... or filming me anyway even though I declined... or drawing an ejaculating penis on my back in chalk... maybe all of the above... but I trust them! Then I see just this, a pair of doors, painted like so:

and the words 'The Garden Of Eden' above. I'm being taken towards it and the doors magically open outwards and let me in.  Oooohhhh!

This is what I see, but I see it opening out in front of me slowly in 3D...  all around me...

...and I'm riding on the back of a huge fish.

If I look down I can see the top of the fish's head. And as I turn my head... tilt it left, right, up, down again, I see creatures and trees and weird and wonderful things. Well, various elements of this section of Hieronymus Bosch's triptych (The Garden Of Earthly Delights). I'm asked to describe my experience as it happens... it's strange, spectacular, a little unnerving, travelling through a surreal parallel world, and I'm not in control, I'm on a ride, seeing an elephant on the left, a white giraffe on the right, birds flying all around... All the while with my feet firmly planted on Bristol harbourside on a sunny afternoon, near a couple sitting on a bench eating cheese and tomato sandwiches (that's if they're still there. I can't see them any more with this contraption over my eyes).

It finishes as I'm taken back through the black door.  Fortunately I don't have to continue my virtual journey through the final section of Bosch's triptych as pictured below; his vision of the underworld might have freaked me out a bit.

So it's ok, hell isn't round the corner.  My hotel room is!

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