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...
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