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)
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