Wednesday 30 March 2016

Fear and A Field In England, part one

I’m walking, alone.  It’s late afternoon and the sun is out, I’m dressed for winter but surprised at the warmth;  I have to undo the buttons on my jacket.  Venture along a familiar route, through a field of horned sheep, over the stile, up past the ancient manor house and then I’m out in open farmland, beyond my usual course.  Haven’t been this far in years.

Huge flat fields stretch to the left and to the right, tiny distant trees pin the sky to the ground like tent pegs.  A well-worn path leads down into a dip, next to a wooded area, and I make my way towards it.  I stop for a moment first just to look around, take it all in: this beautiful, peaceful English countryside.  There is not a sound… not a single sound.  Nothing.  I’m only twenty minutes, half an hour maybe, from home,  but somehow it could be hours, days… my sense of being away from everything and everyone is such that it's almost overwhelming and very slightly unnerving.  As I proceed down the path getting nearer to the trees I can see, quite literally, for miles: not a soul around.

Or so I think.

I hear a rustling, some kind of surreptitious-sounding movement, coming from the large cluster of trees.   I can’t see much there, just the dark shapes of trunks and broken branches knitted together, the sun too low now to cast light on the ground between them nor on anything stirring amongst them.

It will be a fox.  Or a pair of woodpigeons, maybe.  Birds, yes - of course!  But still I stop.  Should I just keep walking… walking right towards and past those trees…past the noise...  or should I simply turn around now and head back? 

I’m too warm in this heavy jacket to run…. my feet are tired… no phone…  is it ridiculous that I’m even thinking like this (whatever ‘like this’  is?) when I’m only walking in a field in England on a lovely, sunny March afternoon?  Regardless, that’s what I do: turn around and retrace my steps, and I do so a little more briskly than before.  We’re just not used to being this alone, are we?  Just not used to the idea that if something were to ‘happen’, even if it was nothing more sinister than tripping over and spraining my ankle, out here I am helpless.   And then there are those darker thoughts… of what?... of the madman with his axe waiting behind a twisted elm?

Somewhere in the woods round here, only a few years ago, the body of man who’d gone missing was found; he’d hanged himself.  If you really mean it then this is the place to do it – I guess he hoped he’d never be located, never subject some stranger to the trauma of that macabre discovery (sadly he failed in that respect).  Not like those who hang themselves in their homes, or who throw themselves under trains.  This would be the place - to leave your body to the elements, let rain and sun and wind break you down and magpies peck at your remains, never witnessed by another human.  Just a fox.  Or a pair of woodpigeons, maybe.


I don’t look over my shoulder… I just walk back a lot faster than I’d walked there, and try not to be freaked out when I catch a sudden glimpse of my shadow in close pursuit.


Later in the evening I watch the film ‘A Field In England’.  I’ll tell you what I think of it next time!

Friday 25 March 2016

This wasn't supposed to happen

Last year I was reminiscing fondly about my young punk days to some people I’d never met before who hadn't 'been there' themselves.  I say 'fondly' because it was the first genre of music I got into, it was my entry point.  It gave me an outlet, satisfied something creative inside, helped me find my young teen identity, inspired me.  It was sealed in its relatively brief time, in my youth.

When asked about the violence so often associated with it I was happy to explain that this wasn’t my experience; there had been a great sense of camaraderie in our local scene out here in the provinces circa ’77 -’79 and no-one went around beating anyone up.   I was in with a peaceful bunch who just wanted to be left to our own devices and enjoy the music (and the look), a small group of united outsiders.  It was only afterwards when I reflected on it that I realised I’d misunderstood the question;  I’d answered as if the suggestion of violence was inferring that punks themselves were the protagonists and I’d missed the chance to explain how much we were the victims of harassment and aggression from strangers instead.

The reality was that everyone I knew had had some experience of confrontation.  Luckily in my case it was rarely more than people shouting boorishly at me in the street, usually corny stuff, like, erm...

 “Oi punk!” 

... (imaginative they were not).   More specific derogatory comments about my hairstyle and clothes were also so frequent as to become incredibly boring; just the norm.

Thankfully I was never on the receiving end of physical abuse (apart from being pushed to the ground in a park once by a drunk, overweight hippy... luckily he was so pissed, and so fat, that I got away).   My friends and I did once get chased around town by a gang of – this puts it into its era – Teddy Girls.  We gave as good as we got with the verbal sparring but one of them was decidedly bigger (and older) than us and when they threatened to ”bash us up” (oh, how quaint) we found ourselves in a ridiculous cat-and-mouse pursuit (we were the mice) through shops and streets.  We ended up at a friend’s mum’s where we took cover until they tired of hanging around on the pavement outside and went home to change their bobby socks.

But just about every male punk I knew at the time was less fortunate.  Being set on at train stations, attacked at bus stops, punched by bouncers, it happened.  And more often than not the assaults came from straight blokes – ‘straight’ as in not into anything in particular, just ordinary geezers who went down the pub and watched football who, for some unfathomable reason, found those less conventional than themselves to be a threat.  Is there not some kind of irony there?

How quickly we forget.  People hated punks. 


Now we have 'Punk London', and it's being backed by Boris Johnson.


Sean O'Hagan in the Guardian, 20th March 2016:

'...That Boris Johnson, a key player in London's ongoing hyper-gentrification and creative cleansing, sees no irony in his role as the most prominent backer of Punk London speaks volumes about our times.  It has given us an endlessly self-congratulatory culture industry, but no meaningful culture to speak of save for the tyranny of the art market. And, like an old Labour radical tamed by age, the spirit of punk has now been so drained of threat as to be an object of uncritical nostalgia.  It was not always thus.

Forty years ago, Sex Pistols so incensed Boris's Tory forebear, Bernard Brook-Partridge, Conservative member of the Greater London Council, that he declared:"Most of these groups would be vastly improved by sudden death.  The worst of the punk rock groups I suppose currently are the Sex Pistols.  They are unbelievably nauseating.  They are the antithesis of humankind.  I would like to see somebody dig a very, very large, exceedingly deep hole and drop the whole bloody lot down it."  Punk, like all provocations against dull conformity, revealed more about the nastiness that lurks beneath the veneer of conformity than it did about the frustration of those who railed against it.

And rail against it Sex Pistols did, more powerfully and more disgustedly than any pop group before or since....

...The group's singer, Johnny Rotten, was stabbed in the street, their drummer, Paul Cook, assaulted by a thug wielding an iron bar and punks across the country were attacked by outraged local citizens. It does not take much to reveal the nastiness lurking beneath.'


 Did you see Joe CorrĂ©, son of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, on Channel 4 News last night, being interviewed by Cathy Newman?  I thought he expressed his views against 'Punk London' brilliantly.   He also talked about the real violence experienced by his parents and associates at the time and the controversy caused by the release of  'God Save The Queen'. He even managed to get in the story that Boris had undertaken the infamous Bullingdon Club initiation ceremony of burning £50 notes in front of a homeless person.  Cathy was quick to point out at the end of the interview that this was unfounded and merely an allegation, to which Joe replied, “Well, you would say that, wouldn’t you?”  (and briefly it felt as if that original punk spirit was still alive and well.)


Joe Corré in the Guardian, 16th March 2016:

'....The Queen giving 2016, the year of punk, her official blessing is the most frightening thing I've ever heard. Talk about alternative and punk culture being appropriated by the mainstream.  Rather than a movement for change, punk has become like a fucking museum piece or a tribute act...'


It's sad really - I didn't want to feel this way - but my fonder memories are being tainted with all this rehashing of the whole punk thing and its absorption into the mainstream which is undoubtedly peaking right now.  Especially when I see things like this:

Saturday 19 March 2016

The lightning tree

Some years ago I was studying part-time in Cambridge, which meant driving there once a week.  The 30 mile trip was along quite a dull route, nothing very picturesque or interesting about it - except for one particular thing which I looked forward to seeing every time, especially on my outbound journey when it was close and on my side of the road.  It was my lovely lightning tree.

It’s lost several branches and boughs in the interim years but it’s still there.  Now it looks like this: 

I know it probably doesn’t look very special here – it’s so much more blunt and stumpy than it used to be (that sign is new too) -  but what was marvellous about seeing it on my travels, apart from its former spikiness, was the way that it appeared so different every time.  I think it was something to do with the constantly changing nature of its backdrop.  Some early mornings the tree would loom out of the mist, its pointed fingers seeming to pierce through it.  On sunny days the bark would take on a bright, silvery sheen, creating a striking contrast to the wash of a vast blue sky.  On dark Winter mornings everything seemed to be in monochrome, an impression enhanced further by huge black crows perched on every limb.  Each variation in the light and time of day gave this tree a transitional quality, sometimes nuanced, sometimes dramatic; never the same twice.

It wasn’t just the sky backdrop which set the scene so beautifully for this central character, it was the position of the pylon behind it too. At a certain distance and angle they lined up perfectly - just for one split second - the pylon dwarfing the tree yet somehow mimicking it at the same time; their shapes not that dissimilar really.  They seemed so connected, not only visually but metaphorically too - united by electricity, signifying the death of one and the life of the other.

Ah, I loved that ever-changing picture on permanent display on the A1307.  It was the highlight of my weekly commute - so special to me that I honestly wished I could have been stuck in traffic more often.

From the other side of the road

Talking of lightning trees, remember this?

The Settlers: The Lightning Tree (theme from 'Follyfoot' 1971)

Saturday 12 March 2016

My bestest most favouritest songs ever ever - part 3

I fucking loved the Godfathers.  There's no other way of saying it.

If I had to describe them - I know I don't, but I will anyway - I'd summarise them as a brilliant blend of punk and rock'n'roll with something '60s r'n'b and garage going on too.  Snarling, punchy, catchy and dressed in sharp suits, the Godfathers had everything I wanted from a band in the mid '80s, including attitude. Born from the ashes of the Sid Presley Experience this was a group that needed to be there at exactly that time.

I could have chosen any of a number of their tracks as an all-time favourite song, but perhaps the one that stood out to me the most early on was their second single, 'This Damn Nation', released on 12" in March 1986.  But they had me at their first release, 'Lonely Man' and my love for them continued for a good few years.

I was lucky enough to see them live twice,  details fade but I'm pretty sure both times were in 1988 at the Town & Country Club.  What I do remember is that vocalist Peter Coyne and his brother, bassist Chris Coyne, looked like proper geezers you wouldn't want to mess with.   Guitarist Kris Dollimore was a ball of energy, leaping about and throwing guitar hero poses which might sound crap except that he looked like he was simply born to move that way... he was rather cute too.  They gave it everything, and everyone got hot.

Click on link to listen...

The Godfathers: This Damn Nation

Sunday 6 March 2016


Out walking today between the long line of trees that lead up to a manor house, I was struck by the beautiful shapes created by their previous pollarding.  Many of the enlarged stumpy ends of boughs from which the spindly new growths spring at awkward angles resembled animal heads.  I could see pigs with their blunt snouts and narrow eyes, cattle with flared nostrils and deer with fantastical antlers, entwined and knotted with mistletoe.  I wished I could capture them with my camera, but I knew the effect would be lost.  These imaginary creatures wouldn't survive the flatness of photography.

But I took pictures of the trees anyway.

Apart from zooming in against the light here, no special effects were needed.  I think of those marbled pictures you can make by pouring ink on oily water, or the result of blowing paint across paper with a straw.

I love this tree - surely some kind of monster:

But I also love how black and white can create a certain spookiness

It seems fitting that some scenes from 'Witchfinder General' were filmed right here.

Like a butchered animal carcass this trunk looks as if it's been cleaved in two:

And finally...

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