Saturday 31 December 2016

Happy New Year

While out walking off one Toffifee too many in the mist yesterday I took this photo on my phone and realised it could be a kind of analogy for life, especially at this moment as we transit from one year into the next.  Following the path to a future that is unseen (or should that be ‘unwritten’ to paraphrase Joe Strummer?) - none of us knowing  quite what lies ahead.  That’s not strictly true in the case of this photo's subject as I know it to be a big old manor house with sheep and a moat with ducks and stuff but, if I didn’t know that, well, I’d still keep walking anyway.

The analogy continues: the path is rutted and full of potholes, but navigable if you take it slowly; in the distance to my left there is a graveyard, and although I know it can’t be, on the lower middle right of this photo I noticed a small unexpected shaft of white light which looks kind of ghost-like. (Believe me, I’ve zoomed in on it a few times in the strange hope of figuring it into Bowie’s face but to no avail.) 

There's no doubt that this has been year of awfulness for the world, much of it genuinely shocking and unfathomable and, for many like me a year of deeply sad personal losses as well as public.  But it’s had its fair share of sunshine and sweetness -  this is a world full of good people too and you're the proof!  That sounds so cheesy, but it's genuinely heartening to know so many views and sentiments are common amongst us here.  I think we just don’t hear so much about the nice stuff because it’s going on all the time quietly in the background.  All those small, unselfish acts of kindness by friends and strangers don’t make the news, but I reckon that’s a good thing because it confirms that they’re simply the norm, not the exception.

Anyway you have to keep walking the path, don’t you?  – on a Summer’s day there might even be a cream tea served by a comely wench in Tudor costume at the end of this one* by the way (please form an orderly queue).   Although, to be honest, I turned around halfway yesterday when, thinking I was alone, I suddenly saw three shady hooded figures emerging eerily from the misty distance and got spooked.... 

So - a very 'Happy (and hopeful) New Year!' to you - and thank you to everyone for walking with me through this one.

* The manor house is open to the public for historical recreation events in case you were wondering!

Friday 23 December 2016

Abstract moment of the week #6 (and Happy Christmas!)

It was a lovely, but chilly day here yesterday and I needed to walk off the Pringles; when I crossed the road I saw someone who lives on my street waiting for the bus so I stopped to say “Hello”. 

I was greeted shyly with, “I see you’re wearing your leather gloves!"

I was, they are black and soft and the warmest gloves (lined with cashmere) I have ever owned and I replied with something along those lines.  

“I’d love to borrow a pair of ladies’ leather gloves,” my neighbour continued, whilst unable, it seemed, to look at anything else but my tightly clad hands.   “Oh, I really would love to; I wish I knew someone who would lend me their ladies’ leather gloves.”

I could've sworn I heard a faint thud as the hint hit the ground.  

“Aww… I would lend them but they were a present….” I lied.  I didn't want to be mean - but actually I wouldn’t lend them, and they weren’t a present.  I just had visions of never getting them back; we don't know each other very well, after all.

The disappointment was palpable.

“...But perhaps if you look round the shops you might find some, “ I suggested.

And on that note I said goodbye and wished a Happy Christmas to my thick-set 59-year old neighbour.  His name is Martin.  I couldn't help but smile as I remembered it’s not the first time he’s mentioned my black leather ladies’ gloves.  With the emphasis on leather and ladies.  Perhaps I should buy him some like mine and pop them through his letter box for Christmas - of course they’d be far too small for his large male hands but somehow I don't think he'd mind.


And on that note too: A Very Happy Christmas to you all!   Thanks to everyone for being there and for coming here, I appreciate it more than I can even say.  Have a good one! x

Thursday 22 December 2016

Into the vally

Well, yes, I love looking at everyone’s end of year lists, favourite albums, top 10 tracks etc.   Well, no, I can’t  possibly ever do any myself.

I’ve listened and liked loads of new music this year but I can’t do that ranking thing.  Any order of preference would be a sham as it is likely to change on a daily – hourly, even - basis.  

But at 10.15 this morning coming in as one of my Top I Don’t Know How Many Because I Haven’t Been Counting for 2016 is this.  It'll definitely still be in there at 11am....

Hope you enjoy it too!

Deap Vally - Smile More

Thursday 15 December 2016

Random Access Memory #5

You know how in my last post I mentioned that many years ago I was working with rufty tufty seadogs and middle-aged mariners, who’d travelled the ocean waves on massive cargo carrying vessels?   I have them to thank for introducing me to many different things.

Different things like...  being shown around the hot, noisy depths of a ship’s engine room by a very polite (and not rufty tufty at all) boiler-suited Panamanian engineer.  Like how to make Cheese Beano*.  Like speaking to Eamonn Holmes doing role play for an emergency exercise (whoop-de-do!)  (and that's the first and only time you'll hear me say 'Eamonn Holmes' and 'role play' in the same sentence.)  And being teased about something called the Golden Rivet.  I was told that male sailors like to show female visitors on board their ships the famed Golden Rivet – in naval folklore the story goes that every vessel built contains one single commemorative one - but, oh, you have to find it! (It wasn't in the hot, noisy depths of that aforementioned ship's engine room, as far as I could tell.)  It was through this job that I took my first ever flight, and it was to New York!  Plus I heard a lot of tales, about a  lot of people and a lot of places.  One of the places was Singapore, a major port on the shipping trade route.

I’d never really thought about going to Singapore until then, but in the mid-‘90s I’d  hit a bit of a strange time in my life, a kind of personal, emotional crossroads, and something I decided I needed to do was to go away for a while.  Nothing extreme, you know - just an eleven and a half thousand mile trip on my own to the other side of the world.   On the way to Australia and NZ  I planned a short stay in Singapore  and, thanks to contacts I’d made through my job, there were people there who’d  be happy to show me around this city I’d heard so much about.

I’d never done any teenage travelling, hadn’t gone to uni, couldn't afford a 'gap' year, never had the urge to backpack, and had married someone with no desire to venture further than Cornwall.  I was in my early 30s and now I had that itch.  So I worked really hard, saved up like mad, and asked my boss if I could carry some leave over into next year and then take it all in one go – five weeks' holiday.  Being a globetrotting ex sea Captain (and now a great lifelong friend) he understood my urge to see more of the world and agreed.

Anyway, this is the background to why every time I hear a certain song, I think of Singapore.   I just can’t separate the memory.  More specifically, I think of a huge shopping mall (‘Ngee Ann City’), at that time only a couple of years old, and of standing in this vast modern complex with a ‘Japanese fair’ pitched up at one end (selling exotic-sounding dried fruits and meat dishes) and a branch of ‘Boy’ of all things at another, being shown round by a man called Ong and his wife Theresa, who later took me to a Pizza Hut where we had something called ‘golden corn soup’ for starters.

 In that quite overwhelming shrine to the Western art of shopping in a humid city state in South East Asia, 6800 miles away from home, there was an enormous video screen and beaming out of it, with the volume up full, was the eyecatching film for The Cranberries' single Zombie.

I would include that official video here, but Blogger won't let me, so instead here are a couple of images as a reminder,

plus a link in case you can access this way:

and also a really fantastic performance of the song from Saturday Night Live 1995:

I love it.

Well, it just seemed really bizarre to hear this rousing, alternately fragile and powerful, angry, sad, beautifully brooding, spine-tingling song at that moment, in that alien place. I was on the other side of the world, in an unfamiliar city with a different culture, and there was a 20ft - 30ft? -  high Dolores O’Riordan sprayed in gold** – plus  the cross, Belfast, the soldiers - a song written about the Troubles, in memory of two young boys killed by the IRA.  It seemed entirely at odds, and that’s perhaps why that weird juxtaposition has stayed with me ever since.  ‘Zombie’ will forever conjure up that unlikely place and time, an early evening in a brightly lit Singaporean shopping centre -  and it will always sound great and moving to me, too.  It's one of those songs.

*one of the shipping world’s favourite dishes: beans on toast with cheese on the top then grilled (sometimes also with ham or corned beef)

** I've just realised that, quite by coincidence, this post contains golden rivets, golden corn soup and a golden Dolores O'Riordan.

Saturday 3 December 2016


The other day Mr SDS remarks that he’s experienced a funny sensation in bed the night before.  (Stop it…)   It was troubling him.  He describes it: “like a tickly feeling that started by my arm and then all of a sudden I felt it down my leg”.

“Probably just a nerve or something.  Or you know when you get an itch and it sort of spreads?” I suggest.

“Yeah, but it was just odd because it was, like, really fast.  Weird.”

Anyway, that was that.   I check the bed for spiders (possibly squashed) before getting in next night –  but thankfully no trace. 

A few evenings later I go into the kitchen to get a glass of water, when suddenly something small and dark scoots across the floor in front of me, over my foot and disappears under the washing machine.  Not a spider.  It has a tail.  And thus we discover that we have a mouse in the house. 

The following evening we’re assuming (hoping) the mouse has gone back out by whatever route it came in. We live in the country with all sorts of creatures frequenting the garden, so no big deal.  We haven’t heard or seen it since the night before and we’ve been careful not to leave any food/crumbs about.   I can’t see any tiny droppings on the floor and I’m well-versed in small mammal excreta (it could be my specialist subject on Mastermind, I can identify hedgehog poo at twenty paces). All seems quiet.

I’ll cut to the chase, literally - we are wrong about the mouse going back out.  Suddenly, god knows how, it's upstairs in Mr SDS’ little office room, it runs under his desk, disappears.  Ten minutes later, there’s a mouse in the kitchen… well, a tail hanging down behind an upper cupboard.  Its owner then makes a break for it across the worktop and down behind the fridge (but not before squatting briefly on the bread bin with a defiant stare).  Then back under the washing machine….  disappears.   Five minutes later there’s a mouse running around my workspace, here in the living room, where I'm typing this.  We try to catch it under a plastic bowl but it goes behind the bookcase and… disappears.

Oh no!  We don't just have a mouse in the house, I surmise - we have mice in the hice!

Well, I’m fond of all things small and wild with multiple legs and that includes mice, so I’m not standing on a chair shrieking or anything like that.  I do remember a long while ago, I was working in a huge office full of mostly men, many of whom were hairy-arsed seafarers (I can’t vouch for the hairy bits but I base the judgement on their beards), they’d  been employed as engineers, officers and Captains on massive international oil tankers, travelling the world for months on end, encountering pirates and tropical storms, weevils in their biscuits and all sorts.  One afternoon someone noticed a baby field mouse running across the large open-plan office floor.   All those rufty-tufty middle-aged mariners around and yet it was the new recruit, a 28-year old female admin assistant, who calmly knelt down and caught the panicky rodent in her hands.  (I simply cupped them around it gently and took it outside...)

So I’m fond of all things small and wild - hairy-arsed, even - but I’m concerned about how to deal with several mice running around our tiny home with all its quirky corners; I have visions of an infestation.  

I’ll cut past the chase now…the chasing bit was futile.  We bought a humane trap for £3.99 and left a piece of my favourite Tesco 74% cocoa dark chocolate inside as bait (the sacrifices I make!)  About twenty minutes after laying it, it had caught a mouse.  She was dead cute – as in cute, but not dead (I couldn’t do dead).  All pink nose and twitchy whiskers - I could happily have kept her as a pet, but we took her out for a ride in the car and released her by torchlight a few miles away in a hedge – I'm sure she’ll be fine, she’s a country mouse.

What about all the other mice?  Well, it's been a few days now and it seems there are no other mice, just one extremely clever one (except when it comes to resisting chocolate) who managed to move unseen from room to room, upstairs and downstairs, via her incredible stealth, or possibly the power of invisibility.  

At this point it also dawns on us about the mysterious sensation under the duvet....

Monday 28 November 2016

Cheese and biscuits

There was this kitchen cupboard where my mum kept the biscuits.  I can picture it now, and opening it up to get to the old tins she kept for storing them in.  A particular lovely tin was the Cadbury’s Lucky Numbers one, and another was labelled Peek Freans (who used to make the Playbox selection, those classic biscuits which made your tongue sore through the customary licking-off of icing).  The Lucky Numbers container later became home for the collection of Betta Bilda blocks my sister and I played with (for some reason we never got into Lego, we just used to make lots of open plan white brick houses with green roofs, perfect in the ’60s and ‘70s).  Anyway,  I had so much love for those tins, more than they warranted really.   They were special, symbolic even - of the whiff of pink wafers and chocolate digestives, of biscuits which shouldn’t have been stored together (gingernuts and jammy dodgers, anyone?) whose flavours and smells rubbed off on one another due to the cross-contamination in space-saving storage solutions.  

 There was one other tin in the cupboard which preoccupied me, but for something other than its contents.  Barmouths or Gipsy Creams, Jaffa Cakes or even Betta Bilda - it wouldn’t have mattered, it was the picture on the side which captivated.  I think we'd been given this as a present originally, and that it was foreign; I remember the picture being of a woman holding a container and - this was the wondrous and fascinating thing about it – the tin that she was holding was also the one I was looking at!  And it was obvious that the woman shown on the tin that the woman on the tin was holding, was also holding a tin showing a woman holding a tin showing…… yes, one of those.   Although I couldn’t see it, I knew it went on forever - forever into infinity, too tiny to pick out with the human eye – but the thought alone just boggled my mind.  A bit like if you’ve ever thought too deeply about the vastness of the universe and you start to feel weird and dizzy and have to think about something mundane like hard boiled eggs instead -  in fact I have to stop myself going there now.

(Eggs, think about eggs!)

Anyway, this image fascinated me so much, I asked my big sister, who knew about mysterious things like formaldehyde and quicksand, what it might be called.  Was there a name for such a thing, a picture within a picture within a picture?  She didn’t know.  So, after much thought we made up our very own special word for it, and felt very chuffed.  I wish I could remember the word we decided on, I’m sure it was something that sounded suitably grown-up, like pictomath or propagraph – something sort of technical.

I hadn’t thought about this in ages, and then I just happened to fancy some cheese spread today, went to the fridge and took out the little box of Laughing Cow triangles when I noticed something that had simply passed me by until now – that the Laughing Cow is wearing a rather fancy pair of earrings...

Look closely at those earrings and what do you see?  Laughing cows wearing laughing cows wearing laughing cows wearing....

(Eggs!  Think about eggs!) 

Wish I could remember that made-up word!  A parapod?  A hypertype?

I've had to go and look it up of course… turns out there isn't one distinct technical word for the picture within a picture (or what's described as a ‘recursive’ image, I discovered) but the principle itself is called the Droste Effect.  What’s that all about?  Well, apparently it was named after the Dutch chocolate company Droste, who made a tin with a picture of a woman holding a tin with a picture of (etc. etc).   The very same picture as the one that was on the tin that was in the cupboard where my mum kept the biscuits.

Wednesday 16 November 2016

My bestest most favouritest songs ever ever - part 4

I've been waiting a while to post this favourite song, and now the time is right! As suggested by fellow blogger Swiss Adam from Bagging Area in an excellent recent post, with all the unbelievable crap that's going on around us politically and socially, we can at least resist by sharing some - to paraphrase SA (thanks!)  - 'up' tunes, songs to raise the spirit and put a smile on the face, etc.  Well, this one always puts a smile on my face - hopefully yours too.

It was actually the first song I'd ever heard by Nouvelle Vague, thanks to a friend who has inspired and delighted by sharing their musical taste with me via compilation tapes and CDs for many years.  Ten years ago, not long after the release of NV's Bande À Part album, a CD arrived which included this one, nestled alongside tracks by the Butthole Surfers, Favourite Sons, Saint Etienne, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, .... see what I mean? I was inspired and delighted indeed.

'Dance With Me' has to be not only one of my bestest most favouritest songs ever ever but also one of the sexiest.  I mean proper (improper?) sexy: dirty kinky dark (insert your personal predilection here) sexy.

Let's dance little stranger
Show me secret sins
Love can be like bondage
Seduce me once again

Ohhhhhh!  (that's me, not the song lyric)

Credit must go to Lords of the New Church of course for writing it in the first place, but to me their original sounds like the Ramones channeling Duran Duran - nothing against that idea, in fact it could be quite interesting -  but once you've heard it stripped back and sung in a female French accent there really is no turning back.

To top it all, some clever person has worked out that it fits one of my bestest most favouritest scenes ever ever in the Jean-Luc Godard nouvelle vague film, 'Bande À Part', where Anna Karina dances between Claude Brasseur and Sami Frey (a scene which influenced the dance scene with Uma Thurman and John Travolta in Pulp Fiction).   With Nouvelle Vague as its new soundtrack, the circle is so neatly completed. Perfect.

(In the spirit of Swiss Adam's suggestion)
 Fuck fascism, dance with me!

(Thanks also to TheRobster at Is This The Life? whose post prompted me to listen to some NV again!)

Sunday 6 November 2016

Life's great disappointments

Adam looking rather gorgeous 

I won’t mince my words: everyone said it was shit.  “How can it be?” we thought, “it’s a punk film!”  I’d already bought the soundtrack album to Jubilee, having fallen for the cover and its inclusion of tracks by Chelsea and Adam & The Ants;  I knew that Siouxsie, Jordan and the Slits made an appearance, so it had to be good.

“It was shit,” my boyfriend and I concluded after we’d made it all the way to an Arthouse Cinema in Covent Garden one Sunday afternoon in 1979 to see it.  It didn’t help that the film broke half way through and a very well-spoken, somewhat adenoidal, lecturer-in-film-studies type bloke came out to convince everyone to bear with him while he tried to fix it because it was at a crucial point in the narrative or something. 

Maybe I’d have more patience for it now, be more open-minded, but I'm coming at this from the viewpoint of my 16-year-old self and I was not impressed.  I guess I’d built it up too much in my mind.  Adam did look rather gorgeous and there is that track on the album with the corniest wordplay title and a Charlie’s Angels type theme which I reminded myself of today and I still like it for all its 70s-ishness.  Apart from that, though, Jubilee, for me, has gone down as one of life’s great disappointments.

Amilcar: Wargasm In Pornotopia

I reckon I’m very lucky to have led a fairly blessed life so far because I can’t think of all that many other disappointing things, except for toffee apples.  What other so-called treats deliver so much promise – toffee and apples for a start – dressed up as huge lollipops in shiny gold-red glazing, yet fail to live up to it every time?  They look so good, they taste so bad.  A difficult first bite, musty mushy apples, pips and toothache all spring to mind, although I’d be interested to know if anyone has any differing experience of them.  Is it just me?

Ok, now I'm thinking about disappointments, another of mine was the Brownies.  They were supposed to be  action-packed gatherings with mysterious initiation ceremonies  for secret agent style missions, interspersed with baked potatoes.  Weren’t they?  Instead, my enduring memory is of spending a whole Saturday polishing shoes for which I was awarded  a sew-on patch.  I also had to forego watching a favourite after-school telly programme (my uncool confession is that it was the Thursday edition of ‘Blue Peter’)  to become a bored Elf for an hour a week; no secret agent style missions nor baked potatoes.  Mr SDS tells me he was equally disappointed after joining the Cubs, having been led to believe after a Cubs Open Day that there were always going to be coffee, hotdogs and possibly armed combat.

My mysterious Brownie initiation ceremony

There’s one other thing I can think of right now as being a genuine disappointment in life and that’s Ghost Trains.  Much like toffee apples, their outer appearance is deceptive.  

It'll tear your soul apart!

I can’t even remember much about the last one I went on, and it was only five years ago.  I think it did indeed promise to tear our souls apart.  I've a vague memory of going through lots of curtains and getting sprayed with water but, come to think of it, it was worth the entry fee for the helpless laughter it caused my friend and me, so maybe not so disappointing after all, and better than Jubilee.

Monday 31 October 2016

Happy scary families

Over the last six months my cousin, sister and I have been clearing out my late aunt and uncle’s house.  They were such lovely people but they did keep a lot of Stuff.  And you know what Stuff is… anything from out of date Oxo cubes to broken picture frames to soldering wire.  Seemingly random items share floor, wall and cupboard space, many untouched for decades.  For example, in a room lined with shelves of empty jars kept for jam-making and dozens of boxes of radio components,  an old cat collar and an odd shoe had been placed on a rusty bike.  No sign of the other shoe.  Nor the cat.  But we haven’t given up hope of finding either.

It was a hugely daunting and poignant task at first, but as we clear away numerous cornflake packets recycled into paper hoppers, programmes from 1980s theatre trips and… well just about anything else you can think of… we’ve uncovered more interesting items.  Letters written by my grandfather to my dad and uncle when they were evacuated during WWII tell of his fears and hopes in such uncertain times; they were in the same file as an original newspaper from 1945, its front page dominated by two words:  HITLER DEAD.   There are political books everywhere - it's all Labour Party, Communism and Anarchism.   Other ancient books, sepia photos and documents tease us with snippets of lives we're connected to but know little about.  For now we’re putting these to one side to go through later, when we have the time to be fascinated and educated by them without competing for space.  I may write more about these another day.

In the meantime, I’ve rescued a few little things that were destined for tip or charity shop.  So far, just a giant pencil, a cloth map of Suffolk from 1948 and a sachet of stir fry sauce with a long use by date on it.  It's like a real life version of that memory game you play on long car journeys.

I also brought home a tatty old pack of playing cards to look through, Jaques Original Happy Families.  John Tenniel, best known later for his Alice In Wonderland artwork, was commissioned to do these illustrations in 1851, when he was a cartoonist for Punch magazine.  At the time, Happy Families was a brand new game and became a great success.   Although these Jaques designs have been reproduced since and are still in circulation, I hadn't seen them before.  The Happy Families cards I played with as a kid were all smiley, jolly and child-friendly, not like these at all, which have got to be to be some of the most grotesque and alarming characterisations I’ve ever seen on a pack of cards.  Seeing as it's Hallowe'en, I thought I'd share some of my scariest favourites.

Saturday 22 October 2016

Your skin is black metallic

Chrysolina Banksi – what a lovely name!  I’d like to adopt it as a(nother) pseudonym.  The Chrysolina part sounds feminine, and the Banksi bit makes me think of:

The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum / Banksy

As a lover of small things with multiple legs I’d be happy to share the name with its original owner, this little beetle.  (I’m not 100% sure that he is a Chrysolina Banksi, but he fits the description.)

I found him lying on his back on the kitchen floor last night, so I helped him to his feet and guided him out the door.  Then this morning there he was, climbing the walls.  (A scenario which may or may not be familiar to you, but you know I won’t judge).

My photos don’t do him justice, for in reality it was like finding a shiny black bead (or pearl earring!) which when turned to the light gleamed a burnished bronze, decorated with the finest stippling.  Absolutely beautiful.

It made me think of this too; ages since I've played it - I still like it a lot.

Monday 17 October 2016

Fear and A Field In England, part two

(Yeah, I know I wrote part one about 37 years ago...)

When I was a kid, I suffered from asthma and bronchitis.  Memories of carefree Summers eating Dalek Death Ray ice lollies and cycling up and down the road on Dobbin, my little gold bike, are frequently interrupted by less palatable recollections.  Those of damp Winters lying in my parents’ bed, short of breath and feverish, being fed spoonfuls of foul-tasting Tedril, a thick yellow medicine that looked a lot like the stuff it was supposed to help me stop coughing up.

My high temperatures led to hallucinations.  Some were innocuous – like reaching out for a non-existent glass of orange juice - but others seemed malevolent.  There was one I remember vividly to this day in which a rotating globe was floating above the foot of the bed.  There were numerical figures all around it, like a dial, and I lay there watching it move in terror as I knew that when a point on the globe met with the number 99, it signified my imminent death.  I probably didn’t think it in those actual words, as I was only 8.  But I knew I was about to die.  In a panic, I called out for Mum and as she calmed me down with her lovely soothing manner the globe went away, but what sticks with me is that I had been awake throughout, not dreaming, and that it could seem so very real, so tangible.

It’s perhaps partly for this reason that (other than a few brief encounters with my college pal’s supply of Red Leb, which didn’t really work for me) I’ve never had any desire to indulge in mind-altering substances. I'm not sure I want to unleash anything else from my darker imagination.

There were plenty of opportunities though.  Behind my college were fields and woods where magic mushrooms grew.  Ray, the best looking lad in my Foundation Art group, ate a load of them before an Art History lecture and laughed all the way through the Pre-Raphaelites.  He left the course soon after, or was he chucked out?  I don’t know, but he went on to play drums for a band fronted by his extrovert brother who, it was reported, would deliberately strip naked before opening the door to Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Anyway, what I’m getting to in a very long-winded way is the film that’s based all around one big magic mushroom trip: A Field In England. 

Or is it?  If you've seen the film, do you think it’s all a hallucination, or subscribe to one idea that the field represents Purgatory and that they’re all dead already?  Or something else altogether?  Did you think it was a masterpiece of surrealist black and white cinematography, or a load of pretentious old bollocks?

Looking through reviews of the film on IMDb, there are some very varied opinions, such as:

‘tedious hype’

‘wow, just wow’

‘a dull plot in England’

‘subversive and fresh’

In case you haven’t seen the film but want to, I won’t say any more except that in an interview with Dangerous Minds, director Ben Wheatley said he thinks “there’s too much reliance and importance put on clarity of narrative and that everything is explained all the time….  Script books seem to me to be written in a way that it’s like stories written by accountants – everything has to have its place, everything has to mean something, it’s very specific, there should be no ambiguity about what something means.”   He continues “… life is not like that, it’s much more complex and ambiguous and difficult, and that interests me more”.  Maybe it's best to bear that in mind before you start viewing.

I didn’t, and I wish I had - but I liked it.  I was immediately reeled in by the dialogue and the imagery, and loved the characterizations and earthy humour; however as this isn’t a film with an easy, coherent storyline it took a little while before I realised that I needed to just let go and let its madness take over.  Then it started to feel like I was watching someone else’s dream - or hallucination. It was only after a few  hours of it finishing that I found myself thinking about it more and more, like some kind of strange creeping infatuation, and for a while I became mildly obsessed by it.

There's one scene in particular that sticks in my mind as vividly as the taste of Tedril and my imaginary rotating death globe.  If you’ve seen it, you’ll know which one it is.   A huge part of its haunting, compellingly abstract power is due to the choice of music behind it, lush, dark, hypnotically cyclical.  This is it (not the scene, I wouldn’t spoil it for you, but the music alone).  It just works so well and every time I hear it now I can see Reece Shearsmith as he.... well....

Blanck Mass is Benjamin John Power, who I'm reliably informed is one of the founding members of Fuck Buttons.

I've also been reliably informed that it sounds a lot like Tangerine Dream’s Mysterious Semblance At the Strand of Nightmares.  That title does kind of sum up the film itself pretty well too.


Trivia note:  I was introduced to one of the very fine actors from this film at my friend’s funeral earlier this year, a lovely man.  It was quite strange to then watch him playing this part having met him for real a few weeks beforehand .   But I must say, I really hadn’t expected to be seeing his character's syphilitic penis ;-)

Friday 14 October 2016

The song retains the name #2

We were ruminating about reincarnation.  Feeling particularly sorry for myself for reasons I won’t go into except to say it’s a female thing, I said to Mr SDS this morning, “When you come back, don’t be a woman”.

“I don’t think you get to come back as a human again anyway,” he said. 

“Oh, that’d be alright then, I wouldn’t really want to.  Humans think too much.”

“So what would you be?” we both asked the other, simultaneously.

Mr SDS suggested a dog, which might be ok, although I’d worry about not having a kindly owner.  I think I’d prefer to be something wild.

“How about a giraffe?”  he proposed. 

“Bit dodgy with all those lions around."

“Then what about a lion?”

I liked that idea.  At first, anyway.  Then Mr SDS reminded me that it’d be hard work, having to run around killing things all day.

Killing things all day…. not really my cup of tea.  I’d rather not be a carnivore.  How about a mouse?

“With cats tossing you about in the air before eating your head?”  He was right of course.  Not a mouse.

“A fish!” was his final suggestion.   I was pensive for a moment, imagining myself swimming around in the deepest part of the deepest ocean, weaving gracefully between the corals, fins flapping, miles from mankind and land and fishing lines.  It was all very Blue Planet, beautiful. That’s it: a fish.  Yes.

“But not a small fish… you’d get eaten by bigger fish”

“Then I’ll just have to be a big fish.  I won’t mind eating a few smaller ones.”

So that’s it, settled - I want to come back as a big fish.

And fish lead me neatly to today’s Song Retains The Name instalment, wherein I post tracks by a band whose name is also the title of a song by another.   You were worried there, weren’t you, that I might be leading to this man...

but there will be no Marillion on this blog.

I should add that for this series I’m allowing a slight variation in the name/song title if one is pluralised.  I call it the ‘s’ rule.   So we could have the Temptations, and then Heaven 17’s Temptation, for example, and not worry about the 's'.

This allows me to post these:

I can’t remember when I first heard Summer Fun! by the Barracudas, but I don’t remember it from the year of its release, even though it reached No. 37 in the charts at the time (1980) and they made it onto Top Of The Pops.  (Hat tip to my good friend who once made a cool little fanzine called Summer Fun!)

 I do, however, remember playing it in the record shop I worked in a few years later, when sixties beat and psychedelia, both original and revival, seemed to be making a more significant resurgence.  We made sure the shelves were stacked with Nuggets, Nomads, Lime Spiders and Standells, etc. (and I spent most of my wages on them).

This English band were inspired to call themselves the Barracudas after the song by the Standells, which could make my inclusion of the band a bit of an iffy choice as it’s not just a coincidence.  However I discussed this recently with my independent adjudicator and decided to let these through if I like the songs enough.  Therefore I can have both, so here are the Standells and their rather splendid song Barracuda, from 1967 (I think).  Ed Cobb wrote this, as well a number of other tracks for the Standells, but is perhaps most well known for having written Tainted Love.

(I really should have put the Standells before the Barracudas - oh well.)

Friday 7 October 2016

A quick heads up

Episode 3 of The People's History Of Pop is on BBC Four tonight and I think it's going to be a good one.  Covering the years 1976 - 1985, it includes Ray Lowry's son sharing some of his father's sketches from the time he joined the Clash on their 1979 tour of America and a handwritten notebook of thoughts and lyrics by Joe Strummer.  Fans of the Smiths and Duran Duran share their mementos and memories, and original posters, set-lists and diaries that have been kept by fans for decades will all be on show.

If you saw the first two episodes of this series, you'll know the approach it takes is heartwarming and very unpretentious, and the whole notion of being a fan of any kind of music, group or artist is celebrated as being something most viewers are going to be able to identify with, something that has shaped people's lives.  There's no judgement or elitism, no suggestion that any band or genre is cooler than any other and, best of all, the memories and keepsakes come from source.

I have a particular soft spot for this series too, thanks to this blog, as last year one of their researchers found my post about my first gig and got in touch.  They have set up a vast archiving website which anyone can contribute to, and asked if I'd like to upload my photos and accompanying words on there.  One thing led to another and I was invited to do a proper interview!  I've never had any desire at all to be on TV - in fact, quite the opposite, I'd normally run a mile, maybe ten - so I ummed and ahhed about it but then I thought:  oh what the hell, it's a new experience.  And it's not Come Dine With Me.  Around that time one of my dear friends was very ill, and it was such a distressing period in my life that my sense of needing to make the most of everything was highlighted.  So I did it.  I didn't have a lot to show, just those few old photos (which are on this blog anyway), but I had such a lovely time chatting away to the producers; they were great.  We focused on my early teenage forays into punk, about being female and fourteen and wearing DIY clothes, about getting into trouble at school for spiking up my hair, about how punk was there just when I needed it, how it seemed arty and rebellious, just when I felt I didn't and couldn't fit into the mainstream, it allowed me an identity, a voice and a social scene.  So I jabbered on for two and a half hours and probably made no sense at all but I have to say it really was great fun, and if I had the chance to do the same thing again, I would.

Well, perhaps the best outcome of all is that it didn't make the final cut!  Since doing that back in December the programme makers have found so many far more interesting people and their fascinating mementos and anecdotes, so I can relax tonight and not worry about all the times I repeated myself and said "you know"....and god knows what else.   I'm so looking forward to watching the programme tonight without any self-conscious sense of dread and enjoying all the memories shared by others.

The People's History of Pop is on BBCFour tonight at 9pm.

Wednesday 21 September 2016

Caffs, cats and Clangers

The other day a friend from the West Country sent me this fantastic card in the post.

She would be staying in London for a while, cat-sitting, she said - did I have time to get down to the East End? So I made time for a flying visit yesterday.

We met at Liverpool Street, from where she, in her vivid blue jumper and me, in my new bright green coat, took a rainbow-coloured No. 8 bus

to see a large pink stripey cat (not the one my friend is looking after.)

More on that in a minute.

First we stopped at what must surely be one of the most memorable and wonderful East End caffs (or is it a restaurant?  or a greasy spoon?) in the city - E Pellicci.  Everyone is greeted like an old friend, many are old friends - it's no wonder.  Hugs, chat, banter.  Total warmth.  It's noisy, vibrant... just real.  A far cry from the English tea room vibe which proliferates around my locality - sweet as that can be for visits by ageing relatives, sometimes I feel what I can only describe as an underlying sense of uptightness to our rural establishments.  You couldn't get much further from uptight at this place, though.  I had a lovely cuppa and sponge pudding with custard and learned how to say my friend's name with an authentic Italian accent.  Loudly!  The ebullience of our host was contagious. The surroundings are interesting too - beautiful Italian art deco marquetry on the walls had been put in during the 1940s, the old cash till (think Open All Hours) is still in use; the same warm and welcoming family have run this place for over a hundred years on hospitality and home cooking - why change?

After good conversation and a sugar fix, my friend and I dash on up to the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood.

This is where we see Bagpuss... and Professor Yaffle..

... as part of a small, but beautiful, exhibition of the fabulous world of Smallfilms - Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin's creations that are forever lodged in the memories of those of us who spent our childhood in their joyous company.

Bagpuss was a bit after my time - first aired in 1974 - so, lovely as he and his companions are, I didn't get that same special thrill at seeing him.

I got my special thrill from seeing these, ohh! the Pogles!  My favourite!

Look at little Tog on the right.  He was some indeterminate species of animal, sort of squirrel-like with rabbity feet.  Apparently they all had to have weights in their feet to stop them falling over during filming.

"I'll be respectable when I'm dead, Mrs Pogle," says Amos (on the left). "Until then, I'll shout and sing as I like".  Go for it Amos!

The witch was extremely scary, I mean really scary, and even scarier to see pinned up under glass yesterday.  Apparently a number of stories were planned for the witch but were never screened because the BBC thought them too frightening.   I tried to take a photo of her but I think she cursed it as all I ended up with was a nasty black smudge.

If you remember Pogles' Wood, then you'll no doubt recall Noggin the Nog. I love the artwork for this 2-D animation classic.  I'm currently working on a book with human characters (actually Mary, Joseph and their lickle baby, the one that was born on Christmas Day) and, quite coincidentally, I'd recently been looking at some of Peter Firmin's illustrations for inspiration, so it was brilliant to see his work for real.  Look at this wonderful art for the Ice Dragon!

And then of course we have The Clangers.

They were a bit larger than I expected.  Peter Firmin's wife knitted them and apparently some of their space-age clothes were inspired by pictures of Twiggy.

Well yes.

And you can't have Clangers without Froglets, nor the Soup Dragon....

"Don't you remember the Iron Chicken?" I heard a young bearded man say to his friend in disbelief.

Don't you remember the Iron Chicken?!  I couldn't get a good shot of said chicken, but I must say it was lovely to see him again after all these years.

Well, it was good to see them all, after all these years.

Clanger, Bagpuss & Co is on at the V&A Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green, until 9th October.

Thursday 15 September 2016

The song retains the name #1

Oh dear, another terrible title for a post but, yes: another series!  Here's a game that everyone can play - and probably already has done, many times, in which case sorry for any repetition.  I'm not going to look it up and find out who, where or what results anyone came up with if they did, though, because that would just spoil a planned series as well as my fun - and I need a little excitement in my life.

So, this has been partly inspired by a run of posts over at the excellent blog Charity Chic Music, where our cordial host shared songs which name-checked an artist alongside a track by said artist.  For example, this one.  However, it was also partly inspired by spotting a low flying drone (ugh) hovering over the field on my way to the Post Office the other day.

I saw the drone... mentally stuck two fingers up at it (actually I should have done that for real) and then went on a rambly mind journey because of it, and en route I stopped at the Mancunian punk band the Drones, who I think I've only ever heard on the 'Short Circuit: Live At The Electric Circus' compilation album (nice 10", blue vinyl).  They shared the bill with the Fall and Joy Division, John Cooper Clarke, Buzzcocks and Steel Pulse - very 1978.  Anyway, as the drone in the sky disappeared over the hedge into the Old School car park, my thoughts continued up the musical highway and led straight to a single I'd heard last year by band FIDLAR (trendy capital letters, skate punk genre I believe), as it was indeed entitled Drone.  Does sound a bit like the Drones too, funnily enough.  My next rumination was perhaps only to be expected: the Drones / Drone... oh, I wonder how many other band names also happen to be song titles (and vice versa)?  Surely there must be a few?  So then Charity Chic's series came to mind, but with that being about lyrical name checks hopefully this is different enough not to be considered plagiarism, and could stretch to a few new posts here.

So now I have a couple of notebook pages full of scribbled down band names/song titles that are the same.  I'd love you to play along too if you haven't already exhausted a similar list yourself before - but I'm going to be mean and ask that you please don't tell me what you've come up with... at least not yet...because what has been read can't be unread and remember what I said earlier about excitement?

Now I just hope I can locate the various tracks I want to include, and if I do this series could run into double figures, which will be a first.

Let's kick off!  Here are a couple of obvious ones, but nonetheless they are corkers.  We have Bernard Cribbins with the song 'Right Said Fred' and then of course the band Right Said Fred... with 'I'm Too Sexy'.


But we do have these:

Edwin Starr: War

War: The World Is A Ghetto

(please click on links to play)

Friday 9 September 2016


I’ve been getting myself all worked up about wasps.  Thankfully I’ve never had a bad experience with them; I was stung once, on the face, when I didn’t realise what was tickling me and I unwittingly rubbed it against my skin.  It was a big shock and hurt like hell, but I got over it quickly and if I was a wasp I’m sure I’d have done the same in the circumstances.

I’d rather keep on-side with these beautiful, fascinating little creatures and I’m always saving them from drowning in the bird bath by fishing them out gently on a leaf.  In return, they’ve kindly decided to nest under the gutter of our single storey kitchen, right next to our back door.  

But it's not their close proximity which is getting to me.  I’ve learned so much about them since they decided to take residence here.   For instance, I hadn’t realised before that the first male wasps you see in the Summer – the drones – don’t even have stings.  Neither do they feed or hunt close to their nest for fear of attracting predators, so they fly off over the rooftops and far beyond to do so.  And neither have they been feeding on the contents of picnic boxes and orange juice all these weeks so far, instead they do their bit for the environment by clearing gardens and agricultural fields of pests like caterpillars and greenfly;  thus they, like all insects, are an incredibly important part of the food-chain – truly beneficial pest-controllers themselves.  So really the wasps and me are co-habiting very peacefully.  Their flight path crosses my daily commuting route to my Shedio – a journey of a few steps I make many times a day - we bump into each other frequently, and neither of us comes to any harm.  I’ll feel the soft touch of one against my face, my bare arms and shoulders, sometimes even in my hair, and then it flies off.  They really aren’t in the least bit interested in me - far too busy.

What concerns me is that the way I think may be out of step with much of the rest of the world.  I guess it's always felt a bit that way, so I’m used to it, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with, when you find  your views at odds with the mainstream.  My tolerance of a wasp nest attached to my home possibly makes me appear weird, only one step removed from an old lady who keeps fifty-three  cats in her one-bedroom house and lets them shit all over her furniture. 

At least I’m not completely alone when it comes to giving positive PR to wasps, as well as other creepy, crawly, much-maligned creatures with more than two legs; I’m in the esteemed company of naturalists like Steve Backshall and Chris Packham (who famously let wasps lick jam off his young daughter’s face).   I just don’t have their authority, confidence or charisma to convince others with a more sceptical view to adopt a similar approach.  If only Steve or Chris lived next door (…I would never get any work done).

This would all be less worrying if it wasn't for the fact that the neighbouring house is let out to holiday-makers in the Summer.  Couples come here to relax in the garden and enjoy the peacefulness of the countryside.  I doubt they'd choose to stay right next to a wasp’s nest, one that's very close to their back door too; likewise I can't expect everyone to like it.  Although I can write here like the ambassador for a wasp preservation society, I don’t have faith in myself articulating it in person to a disgruntled guest… my worry is that it’s only a matter of time before I’m confronted.

However, it’s also only a matter of time before the resident wasps all die off naturally, apart from a small number of individual fertilized queens who will depart to quietly hibernate over winter before forming new colonies elsewhere next year.  They will leave an empty nest behind and I can block up the hole without harming a single one.  Sorted – at least in my ideal world.  The problem comes when the dying workers get a bit chippy as their lives come to an end, and seek sustenance from sweet things - the contents of picnic boxes and orange juice -  which will make them act a little drunkenly.  In theory these resident wasps are likely to do their final feeding well away from here, away from their nest, but I'm sure the presence of any tipsy wasps in the neighbour's garden will still be attributed to it.  The flapping arms of panicky people will aggravate them and the risk of stinging becomes a reality and of course I understand the fear of a wasp sting and the concern about allergic reaction.  Theoretically the best thing may be to leave them alone,  adapt and tolerate them for this short period and soon all but the queens will be dead anyway, but that’s quite a difficult point to argue when faced with traditional fears and attitudes.  It seems so much of the time that the human response to something we don't fully understand is to want to destroy it.

So any time now I won't be surprised if I'm asked to “deal with” the wasps - it’s the thought of having to deal with dealing with them which is making me anxious.  I just hope we can all make it through until the last, hazy, natural, dying days of both Summer and wasps, in peace.

Saturday 3 September 2016

Vegan Bonnets to play Bestival!

Umm.  It’s been a while - I'm sorry!   My intention to write something halfway meaningful when I finally got round to actually writing anything at all again has gone to the wall, and it may be a while yet.   Oh, I’ve tried, but the words won’t come.  So instead I’ve been spending half an hour or so of an evening these last few weeks looking for them.  And I found some!  I found them online, in a game of Word Link!   

Maybe you know it, a classic test of one’s linguistic prowess (erm, sort of) based on a grid of random letter tiles…  you just have to connect ones that touch each other to try and form as many words as possible. You can increase your score by using special coloured tiles which pop up in each round too.  Fast as you can go… clicking away… it’s not usually too hard to find plenty of three letter words once you get in the swing of it, but it’s especially good when you can form much longer ones, or use up a pesky Q, J or Z for instance, which have higher values than a run-of-the-mill T or A, etc.  I've also noticed  you can get away with both English/US spellings, slang and expletives (it has to be said, 'wanky' usually scores well).

At the end of three minutes the bell rings, a load of fruit falls out out of the sky and the little monkey in a loincloth looks decidedly happy (maybe you have to be there).  Then you find out which two words scored (a) the most points by value and (b) used the most letters.  Like:

Most valuable word: VEGAN

Longest word: BONNETS

And then if you’re like me, you look at those two words at the end of each game and every now and then you think: ha, that could be the name of a band, and you jot it down in the back of your notebook for no other reason than you just like the sound of it and the thought of a band with that name playing at next year's Bestival, or maybe the Exeter Phoenix.  Next thing you know, you don't really care about your final score any more, you just want to play with your new random band name generator.  I'm reminded of those other name generators - like finding your porn star persona by combining the name of your first pet and your mother's maiden name, and the John Peel band name one I remember reading about - take the name of a charity and follow it with a parent's job.  (Mind Cleaner surely should have really existed?)

Thus several games of Word Link later and according to my notebook, it looks as if the Vegan Bonnets are going to be on the same line-up as a number of other interesting sounding acts, such as:

Zee Queens
Jingo Jingo
Cash Reborn (must be a tribute band)
Vox Quarry
Yeti Diners
Ham Panda
Zen Jello
Quim Slings (sorry, but it let me have that so it counts)

I would book my tickets now...

Saturday 13 August 2016

Random access memory #4

The Summer of 1978 seemed a strange, transitional time, musically as well as personally.  I’d just turned 15 and punk was rapidly becoming my main thing, but there was so much still at odds with it.   For instance, I was never going to hear it down the little fortnightly disco at the cricket pavilion (unless you counted the Boomtown Rats), yet I still went that Summer, and I still danced.  My friends and I went to see 'Grease'; we wore our Jam badges, we giggled at John Travolta.  It shouldn’t have been our kind of film but there’s no denying, we enjoyed it.  The boys we fancied rode Yamaha FS1Es and only the most daring of them had an ear pierced.   I’d ventured into what seemed like the dark, adult realm of Sex Pistols and safety pins,  but the residue of the pre-punk, blue eye-shadow, strawberry lipgloss, Starsky & Hutch fan still lingered in me and my world.  I owned a plastic belt with the Coca-Cola logo all over it and a razorblade necklace.

Anyway, there was this song.  I really liked it, but the thing was - it wasn’t punk, it was disco.   Disco seemed to be at the opposite end of the spectrum to punk then.  Discos - proper big discos in town, I mean, not our cut price cricket pavilion ones - were full of cliques of mean girls and the sort of blokes who'd beat up anyone in straight trousers.  But still I liked this song - it had a relentless bass-line and a nagging chorus with a lyric that was so not my thing;  we’re gonna boogie oogie oogie ‘til we just can’t boogie no more. 

Haha, do you remember it too?!

Well I’d forgotten all about it until I came across a UK singles chart list from July 1978 the other day and then got mildly obsessed with it and the memories it evoked: Boogie Oogie Oogie (the clue was in the lyric) by A Taste Of Honey.    That week in the charts, You’re the One That I Want was No 1,  and the Smurf Song was No. 2.    A few places down there was quite a diverse mix of artists, in fact it seems weird to think of it now as I wouldn't have remembered them being in the same timeframe: James Galway, Showaddywaddy, Lindisfarne, Boney M, Renaissance, ELO.   Then further down – in the 30s -  it got really quite cool and definitely up my street with Buzzcocks, Sham 69, Xray Spex and Steel Pulse.  With all that going on, Boogie Oogie Oogie was not a song I “should” have favoured at all.

But memories of it, like so many things, are inextricably linked to the personal landscapes they inhabit, and I can’t separate this song from a week in July 1978 spent in Sussex on a Geography field trip with my school year.   Like something from the (wonderful) Please Sir! film, it was that peculiar marriage of school life and away-from-home freedom.  It was a week of giggling fits (those truly painful ones, when your lungs feel as if they're going to burst through your ribcage), of  bags of Chipsticks smuggled in satchels for midnight feasting, of sneaking out of places we should have been and sneaking into places we shouldn’t, the covert smoking of Rothmans in the woods, ghost stories and glow-worms, packed lunches and sunburn, and seeing teachers drinking beer. Well, you know, I’m sure.   

Boogie Oogie Oogie always seemed to be playing on the little radio my schoolgirl friends and I took into our accommodation block, a long wooden chalet with greasy windows.  It was next door to one with German students, both male and female, who reportedly wandered around in it with no clothes on and weren’t embarrassed.  Oh, those liberal Europeans!

That month, I bought Buzzcocks Love You More.  I’d never have bought Boogie Oogie Oogie

What I didn’t realise at the time, though, was just how cool the two front women from A Taste Of Honey were.  The single peaked at No. 3 in the charts here, and while I remember hearing it all the time I don’t recall ever seeing any footage of them - I'm sure I’d have been so chuffed to see them play their guitars.   So, finding this performance below was quite a treat, even if it is nearly 40 years too late.  That smiling confidence, the fast funky bass, the bendy guitar solos (there’s a kind of Isley Brothers sound coming out of that Stratocaster).  Even if you don’t like the song, I promise you the way they play their instruments is a joy to watch.  

Plus they were right, lyrically - weren't they?!

If you're thinkin' you're too cool to boogie
Boy, oh boy, have I got news for you
Everybody here tonight must boogie
Let me tell ya, you are no exception to the rule.

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