Tuesday 24 December 2019

Merry Christmas

It's the most kitsch time of the year!
Wishing you all a very happy festive season.
 (And may you never, ever have to unwrap a Hoover on Christmas morning...  *quietly seethes*)


Wednesday 4 December 2019


The time has come for some personal reinvention!

We all feel the need for a little reinvention in our lives at one time or another, don’t you think? – whether it’s a job, a look, a home, a state of mind - whatever.  Perhaps it all seems okay and you’re just coasting along but meanwhile, in the background, something is building up.  It starts as a niggling little voice and slowly increases in volume until it becomes a roar that you can’t ignore – a feeling of dissatisfaction or boredom, or both, or more - until an internal switch flicks and you know you just have to make that change.


A lightbulb moment?  An epiphany?  

If you’ll excuse my self-indulgence, I want to write about it here because the act of expressing it helps cement my conviction (plus, as has often been said, there’s an element to blogging which can be like keeping a diary, charting particular moments in our lives).

For me, it's a work thing.  The reason I need a change is that somehow I’ve ended up in a place so far away from where I originally intended to be that I can no longer ignore the way it's making me feel.  It sort of happened without me realising.  I think of it as being like a musician who agrees once to play Agadoo at a wedding party, but then next thing you know every booking they get is for a wedding party and every song request is for Agadoo.  Then it’s not only Agadoo but, "Oh can you play The Birdie Song too please?"   Soon they’re so busy playing Agadoo and The Birdie Song at wedding parties that it's all they become known for, and they lose all sight of their original plan to release an album of Cramps covers on the accordion.

The other day I was describing a recent book I'd worked on to a friend who's known me for decades and she said, “Oh no, that's just not you!”   That’s exactly it – I can do it, I can give the publisher what they want and they’re happy – but it just isn’t meThat's okay and probably inevitable now and then, you have to stay realistic and earn a living, but so much of the work I create is not to my taste even as a viewer any more;  I frequently look at what I’ve illustrated with disdain or embarrassment.  Not quite everything, but a significant proportion - and I know that proportion is only going to keep getting bigger if I carry on along this route because each time I add to it, it reinforces that identity, and so on and so on until that's all there will be and I can't turn back.

I love being an illustrator, but I don't love enough of the things I illustrate!

That’s not how it’s meant to be, is it - not when you put all your energy into something, get stressed by deadlines and have no time left for anything else?  Surely not.  But the good thing is: this level of dissatisfaction is the motivation I need to make some changes.  Even just making a conscious decision and telling my agents about my plan has me all perky again.  It's nice to feel excited once more, instead of jaded.  I think maybe there are a few reading this who have had similar experiences in your own areas of life and will understand what I mean...  you have to listen to your inner voice.

I know there are a lot of headaches and frustrations ahead, some dedicated time off with no income (I've been saving up!), a ton of hard work plus one massive learning curve to climb - but the moment has arrived to go back to basics, develop a new creative approach and to teach myself to work digitally too.  I feel nervous, exhilarated and readier than I've ever been to give it a try.

And if all else fails

Agadoo doo doo push pineapple shake the tree...

No, an injection of X-Ray Spex instead!

Wednesday 27 November 2019

Abstract moment of the week #12

It’s a dark, doomy, gloomy world out there isn’t it, and a little light relief can sometimes come in the most unexpected of forms.  But... in the form of dog shit?!  Surely not, I hear you say.  Then let me introduce you to Puppy Poo.

Some years ago I was lucky enough to visit the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, it’s full of wonderful books and the work of some fabulously talented illustrators from around the world as you might imagine.  A brilliant experience, but overwhelming.  When it comes to artwork, it’s particularly interesting to see what’s being produced in countries with cultures very different to our own – I remember being fascinated by Middle Eastern and Asian approaches to illustration in particular, and the subjects tackled in their children’s stories, so I picked up a load of their publishers’ catalogues to peruse more sedately on my return.

Well, you know, I went through them of course, but then they get put away in the back of a drawer like so many things one collects on one’s travels, and it was only when I started having a good old clearout earlier this week that I decided to take a proper look.  This was when I found the Korean children’s book ‘Puppy Poo’.

Here’s the description, and you’ll notice the delightful illustration of a puppy actually doing its doings on the cover, if you’ll excuse the way I’ve phrased that.  Click to enlarge (if you want, they're fresh from my scanner;  I did wash my hands.)

This publisher's catalogue is going back many years so, being curious of mind (that's all...), I wondered if there was anything about this unusual book to be found online.   There is.  In searching for it I discovered that Puppy Poo, or more precisely here, 'Doggy Poo', is actually quite a celebrated character in Korean animation. A role model, one might say, the hero of a fable, an example to all.

So, my treat to you today - the trailer for the absolutely genuine short film for children, ‘Doggy Poo’.

Even turds contemplate the meaning of life... 

From Wikipedia:  After being "created" by a dog, Doggy Poo meets various living and inanimate things.  No-one wants to be his friend, and Doggy Poo becomes sad because he believes he is worthless and has no purpose.  Eventually a plant grows out of the ground and tells Doggy Poo that she needs him so she can grow into a flower.  Doggy Poo discovers his life purpose and he becomes absorbed by the flower.  After being absorbed by the flower, Doggy Poo lives "a happy life".

Saturday 16 November 2019

Mary Mary

Something that struck me straight away was how few men were there, perhaps not surprisingly.  I only noticed a handful, one of whom was extraordinarily dapper with a liberal sprinkle of quirkiness (I'm sure I spotted sequins); I could just imagine him as an arty fashion designer.  Instead it was mostly women of the more mature variety who were wandering around the Mary Quant exhibition a couple of weeks ago at the lovely V&A Museum in London.  I went along with my sister and cousin (we all fit the above description...) and I loved it.   I also noticed that a number of particularly stylish, elegant ladies, the kind with chic white bobs and good boots, were clearly transported back in time by what they were viewing, chatting enthusiastically to their friends and sharing reminiscences as they lingered over the displays. “Oh, yes, I remember those…!”

Whilst Mary Quant’s fashion designs wouldn’t be considered controversial now,  it was interesting to remind myself that they were really quite anti-establishment at the time.  For a start they broke away from the restrictive corsetry of the previous decades - what a relief that must've been; in doing so they represented a new freedom that was more than just physical.  And they blurred the boundaries of conventional femininity with ensembles inspired by menswear, such as sharply cut suits with waistcoats and ties. Up until this point women simply wearing trousers in public was still quite unusual; embracing an even more androgynous image was sure to raise eyebrows.

“The voices, rules and culture of this generation are as different from those of the past as tea and wine,” Mary Quant wrote in the 1960s.  “And the clothes they choose evoke their lives..” she continued, “…daring, gay, never dull.” 

I’m just a little too young to have sported any of the original outfits on show from Mary Quant’s career between 1955 to 1975, but there were a few I honestly wish I could wear now, I must say.  The low-waisted wool jersey dresses, the androgynous trouser-suits, brightly coloured tights and wet-look PVC macs…some fabulous accessories too.   There’s just something about the look (and literally ‘The Look’)  plus the cut of these items that has a timeless appeal, at least to my eyes.  Perhaps it’s ironic that I think that now, being the age I am, when they were really all about youthfulness.

And a little slice of '60s mod/psych to fit the theme...

The Fresh Windows: Fashion Conscious (B-side to Summer Sun Shines, 1967)

Thursday 7 November 2019

Gigging, ligging and leek pie - Part 3

Somewhere deep in the MoD archives, there may well exist a secret file on Mr SDS.  It will contain his personal details from over 35 years ago – his home address, his date of birth, eye colour, even the fact that at the time he had punkily altered his natural hair tint - but most importantly it will have had him classified as a potential threat to… well, what exactly?  The Thatcher Government, I presume.

And all because he played in an anarcho-punk band, one which was closely associated with Crass and who expressed some strong left-wing political views as well as being into pacifism, nuclear disarmament and anti-vivisection, that kind of thing.

I was thinking about this after looking at this rather eye-opening piece in Tuesday’s Guardian (with many thanks to the person who sent it to me!)  It's a fascinating glimpse into something that was really quite sinister.  In East Germany in the ‘80s, being a punk must have required far more bravery and resilience than over here.  Disapproving looks, name-calling and being refused entry to unfamiliar pubs was the norm for many of us who looked a little alternative in our youth, but it’s hard to imagine being automatically pulled in for questioning (or worse) by the authorities, not because you were actively protesting or involved in threatening behaviour at the time but simply because you sported an image that represented your musical taste and possible associated beliefs.  It’s worrying to think that dressing a certain way could be treated almost as a criminal act in itself; I can’t help but admire the young subjects of these old photos.

Things could still happen, however, when you were in a British anarcho-punk band who proclaimed their political opinions during the Thatcher years, and I asked Mr SDS to remind me of one particular incident.

It was 1982, and the band members were going to take some photos for their forthcoming album in a secluded spot in the countryside.  Not just any old place though; this was an area they had specifically chosen for its proximity to the site of a ‘secret’ nuclear bunker, a sophisticated fallout shelter designed to accommodate the Government in the event of such a catastrophic war.  Apparently the shelter itself, which had been paid for with public money, was a deep underground complex with blast-proof doors and was capable of holding up to 600 people. (Oh, imagine – all those politicians and their associates becoming breeding stock for a whole new post-apocalypse world!)

Anyway, maybe choosing somewhere so close to this sensitive location was asking for trouble but still they were surprised when, as soon as they’d started setting up their backdrops and banners to photograph, a man appeared seemingly out of nowhere to confront them.   He was pretty aggressive.  “We don’t need CND yellow-bellies like you around” he told them, amongst other things, and ordered them to pack up their stuff and leave.

After a brief discussion they returned to their car, the man following them for a short distance before turning off.   They thought that was the end of the matter but within minutes, again apparently out of nowhere, a police car had started tailing them.   Mr SDS said it seemed strange how quickly it appeared and they just thought it must be coincidence at first, but no, next thing you know they were being pulled over.  From then they were questioned and their vehicle thoroughly searched.  The officers had them unfurl all their backdrops for examination and even confiscated the photographic film – then took notes on their personal details and physical appearance on the spot.  Indeed Mr SDS was even quizzed about that striking hair: “Is this your natural colour?”

When they were finally allowed to continue on their way with nothing to actually incriminate them,  they were offered a stern warning, or was it more of a threat?


It seems no coincidence that shortly after this incident some of the band members' post was delivered to them, already opened...    Who knows what other surveillance was going on?  I have to wonder too what happened to those files!

Have you ever had a brush with the law for your political beliefs, or even the way you looked?  I'd love to hear.

Wednesday 30 October 2019

Don't need anybody to tell me what to do

1979!  A favourite year for music for many of us - much discussed and much celebrated for its various genres all of which seemed to rub shoulders quite harmoniously, at least that's how it felt.  For me, 1979 was all local gigs and hormones and 'O' Levels and experimental make-up and, well of course, the one and only John Peel show - which is where I first heard this underrated slice of well-crafted, melodic, post-punky, jangly power pop.  Blimey, what a lot of adjectives.   Although it's resurfaced on a few comps, I don't think I've heard it in all the years since, but the other day it actually came up in conversation and on being reminded I was once more sweetly smitten.   I was also 15 again, knees tucked up on the black corduroy sofa wearing huge hard plastic headphones which made my ears too hot, listening to late night Radio 1 on a school night, distracted from the dread of tomorrow's Maths lesson by the excitement of new bands, new records, new possibilities. I could be your girl in action!

So here I am fully appreciating this 40-year old single in a whole new light, so much so I can forgive them that misplaced apostrophe on the cover.  Hope you do too.

The Invaders: Girls In Action

Friday 11 October 2019

In the capital

Around this time last week I was sitting on a bench at an unfamiliar railway station in Essex, drinking coffee from a paper cup, reflecting on the day I'd just had.   I wasn't supposed to be at this station, and although I convinced myself that an erroneous info board at Liverpool Street was to blame, maybe I was just guilty of being tipsy in charge of a train ticket…   

I was sure it had said Platform 18, but I’d been running to catch it, and what with the hurried flurry of girly goodbye kisses with only minutes to go and that extra glass of Chardonnay that the first glass lured me into having – on an empty stomach too – well….

Anyway, no harm done.  I knew where I needed to get to and how, and I’d  had a brilliant day with my old schoolfriends.  We’d just absorbed the vibrancy, the lovely blurry buzz that personifies a central London pub at 6pm on a Friday evening.  It’s infectious and it made me want to stay in the city all night, to stay up all night and breathe it in, diesel fumes and all.  Talk about the bright lights - they have me like a moth. 

So, this time last week - a cold station bench, a warm coffee, a mild Autumn night and that wine gradually wearing off as I waited for the (right) train.  I'm always happy in these moments of just observing, just thinking.

I was reminding myself of the small group of heavy metal fans in that pub earlier, how their style had me feeling oddly nostalgic  – all sew-on patches, leather and denim jackets with cut-off sleeves.   Bloody hell, I haven’t seen that look in years, and it suddenly struck me how old-fashioned it is.  I’m quite comforted by that.

My mind travelled through the day again – how my friends and I were dazzled by sapphires bigger than Custard Creams and a frankly excessive amount of gold,  troubled by evidence of archaic torture and equally troubled by prices in the gift shop.  We'd climbed hundreds of stone steps and queued with some bearded American tourists in baseball caps and three-quarter length shorts who looked like they should be in a sort of Blink 182 soundalike band….   And I fell in love with a raven.

You can probably guess where we went...

I‘d read about the Tower of London ravens recently and there was a fantastic snippet of info that I intend to commit to memory: ‘Raven George was dismissed for eating television aerials and Raven Grog was last seen outside an East End pub’…  I love that.

Anyway, yes, a little later than this time last week I got home eventually, but still buzzing.  A trip to the city always leaves its mark on me -  a restlessness which follows me around for a few days after I've been there. All sorts of memories, feelings and previous experiences get woven in.  Just like the wine, it takes a little while to wear off.

And, talking of being in the capital, here's a song I keep hearing on 6 Music from Australian band The Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, and have rather fallen for too.  I like the distorted, watery guitars, the little signature theme, the slightly melancholy edge and the way it all goes a bit psychy at the end...

The Rolling Blackouts CF: In The Capital

Thursday 26 September 2019

Reboot... reconnect

Desperately in need of a chance to reconnect with the land, with my feet, even with my boots  - perhaps the part of my brain that comes here too – I took myself out for a long, long overdue walk this morning. Blimey, I needed that.

I take a familiar route, but enjoy noticing unfamiliar things.  

Down the path at the side of the field, looking down, I take care to avoid falling down shallow holes.  Some have been rather curiously filled in with rubble and stones.

What’s that all about?  Actually I do know.  My neighbour P – a fantastically youthful 80-year old who still drives around in her black sports car – explained it the last time I walked this route and met her. 

“It’s J and his metal detector”, she’d said.   Oh, I’ve seen him with that!  Bless him.  With the mind of a 7-year old in the short, squat body of a 60-year old who wears very bad trousers, J is quite a local character.  I think his metal detector is probably one of those ‘Power Rangers’ models as once featured in an episode of  ‘Detectorists’.   And I don’t believe he’s ever found anything interesting with it, but he does at least remember to “always fill in your hole”.  Rather badly, though.

“Did you ever see him with his long black lace gloves?” P had asked after we’d discussed J’s treasure-hunting exploits.  I hadn’t.  “He used to wear them all the time…,” she continued,  “…even asked me if I wanted to try them on one day!”  

I keep walking, thinking about J with his metal detector, pushing broken bricks into shallow holes with stubby fingers clad in goth girl gloves. 

At the bottom of the hill I double back, head up the other side towards the church.  There’s a lovely, pretty row of old houses here, roofs all different heights, roses and jasmine round doorways and porches, a vast stretch of green in front of them.  A couple of estate agent signs and the line of cars parked along one side are the only indication of the century we’re in.  Then my attention is drawn to the broken wing mirror on the ground.  Next I notice a front windscreen and the intricate spiderweb pattern of its shattered glass.  And then the side window, completely smashed in.  Oh, and then the other side window too… both back windows… and the whole of the rear windscreen of the shiny black estate car, totally devoid of glass.  A little magic tree air freshener blowing about in the breeze inside.  This isn’t an accident, it’s an act of vengeance - there must be a story here, somewhere, a series of events.  The vandalised vehicle so much at odds with its picturesque, peaceful setting.

Familiar route, unfamiliar things.

I stride onward, up to my favourite tree-lined walk.

As I pass the entrance to the ancient manor house where they're preparing for this year's Hallowe'en events,  I find myself seriously considering whether or not I’d like to be a scarer. 

Can you be one if you wear glasses?, I ask myself.  Has anyone ever seen a bespectacled ghoul?  Perhaps I’d have to take them off just when jumping out at visitors.  Or simply wear a hood that covers my face, that’d work.  I quite fancy it.

Talking of scares, this is the walk where I saw the devil - my whip-cracking Lagartija Nick.  I am pleased to report that he is still here.

I stay on the wide grassy verge, look down and notice a little pile of hedgehog poo.  It always raises my spirits.  I know.  I have become something of a wildlife faeces expert;  sometimes it’s the only evidence you have of the nocturnal adventures of the secretive beings we share our space with while we sleep in our beds.

No, don’t think about the (presumably) nocturnal adventurers who vandalised that car now.  I hope they didn’t, erm, you know, in it.

I decided not to take a photo of the hedgehog poo - sorry...

Further on, I notice odd little metal things in the grass that J would have probably been excited to pick up with his metal detector - he wouldn’t even have needed to dig a hole.

What are they, what are they doing here?  Bits off a tractor?

Finally, I take a circular route back past the graveyard and the benches. There’s definitely something to be said for glancing down when you walk; you really do notice the unexpected.

As I get back home, I feel just as I had hoped I would – rebooted and reconnected, at least for now.  It was only natural that this blog post would follow.  Walking feels good - writing does too.

Friday 6 September 2019


How are you?  I am so sorry for neglecting you!  Everyone - those who come here and those whose blogs I visit .  All is fine, I'm just stuck in a mildly obsessive work fug (panic?) at the moment; it strikes me as being a vaguely unhealthy state to be in but seems to be the only way to do things just now, and it's left me very little head space for anything else.

Feels like I'm burrowing down into my paints and pencils all day, surfacing only to eat, before curling up in bed with Tracey Thorn (nearly finished 'Bedsit Disco Queen' - excellent).

But look forward to getting through it all, taking a breather and seeing you here again soon!

Thursday 22 August 2019


I’m all excited and gooey, ooh!  

Fresh new paints!

There’s over £100 worth of them here, can you believe it?  But it was time I treated myself and I've been motivated by a particularly inspiring commission which is currently re-energising me too, at last.  I may write more about that later.  In the meantime, just look at these most delightful little half pans in their individual wrappers, they remind me of lovely old-fashioned sweets (I'm thinking fragrantly fruity chewy ones, or perhaps those hard ones with the sugary shards that almost slice through your tongue.)

They’re so perfect I don’t want to open them but at the same time, oh I crave, I need,  their contents.  Each one a different, exotic flavour.  I mean colour.  Whilst part of me wants to resist even touching them, I will gently pull away the wraparound paper label, then the cellophane, to reveal the glorious pigment itself, so neat in its little half pan box.  Pristine, its surface so smooth, it looks good enough to lick!  The cute miniature container with the name of the hue in the teeniest tiniest print (about 1mm high?) on the side is like a tiny dolls’ house cake tin.  A tiny dolls’ house cake tin with a psychedelic loaf in it. Delicious.  I think I’m a watercolour half pan fetishist.

So I love them: all shiny, new and unused, ready to be ritually unwrapped and lusted after, and then… well, things get wild.  It gets messy, uncontrolled, spontaneous.  I misbehave and mistreat them. My beautiful box set ends up looking like this.

Granted, this selection is at least ten years old.  These paints really do last.
Anyway, that’s my thing.  A fresh new paintbox.  What’s yours?  The perhaps unlikely, innocent thing that gives you a special hard-to-explain little thrill when you see it first in its pristine condition? A new book perhaps, oh the smell of the paper, the stiff cover yet to be folded, the spine yet to be bent?   Or a big bar of chocolate, tempting you with the sparkle of its smooth metallic foil wrap, almost too mesmerising to open?  Perhaps a toolbox? Or a pack of vacuum cleaner bags? (Getting silly now.)   Of course, records always did it for me too, big time.  The shiny vinyl and immaculate grooves, the unchartered B-side of a new single, when every purchase promised a voyage of discovery.  CDs don’t quite have it, although almost -  I can still get that flutter when first exploring a fold-out inner.  And notebooks still do it for me – notebooks and sketchbooks, their blank pages exciting and daunting in equal measure. Long may we enjoy such nuances!

Of course, there's only one song that I really should post now, and brilliant to see with a promo film too.

Pink Floyd: Paintbox

PS - Apologies for quietness around these parts lately too, just one of those things!

Wednesday 17 July 2019

Flying Electric Spiders

That should so be the name of a band, shouldn’t it?  A no-holds-barred garage band whose super-fans throw gigantic fluffy spider toys on stage at gigs (so much more hygienic than knickers).  My sister once had a gigantic fluffy spider toy;  it had pipe-cleaner legs and red teddy-bear eyes on wire stalks, and you could bounce it up and down on the thin elastic attached to its furry black head.  As a child I used it covertly a couple of times by half-hiding it in my bedroom in a bid to scare off the little lady that came once a week to help my mum with the cleaning.   (I’m aware how terribly middle-class that is... Truth being that my mum did struggle to cope, and this was at a time when she was also reliant on another kind of mother’s little helper – the small round one commonly known as Valium).

I was a horrible, naughty child and poor Mrs Sibley in her flowery overall and thick tan tights was the intended victim of my cunning plan.  I was sure that if I carefully secreted the spider in a dusty corner, the unexpected discovery of it would be enough to make her shriek and leave my bedroom in a panic.  The Betta Bilda blocks, my Francie doll and assorted plastic farm animals could then stay strewn on a dirty floor for another week.  ( I tried the same tactic with a rubber snake, but that’s another story.)

Anyway, that’s how much I believed in the power of spiders…

And I still do.  I’m convinced that if real spiders were aware of the fear they are capable of inducing, even in otherwise rational adult humans, they could take over the world.

I also believe that most of the creatures surrounding us are far superior to us in so many ways, they just lack the arrogance and vindictiveness (two purely human traits) to use it against us.   From tiny worms, blind and limbless, being able to detect minute changes in air pressure which means that even underground they can tell when it’s going to rain, to the incredible navigational sense of birds migrating thousands of miles across mountains and oceans to the exact same place each year, these are innate skills we humans can only dream of having.  Then again, worms and birds don’t know how to add a cat face filter to a selfie so we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves...

So here is where flying electric spiders come in.  ‘Spiders Can Fly Hundreds of Miles Using Electricity’ is the sort of headline that makes my ears prick up (without the need for a cat face filter) and to my mind, totally supports the theory of their superiority.  Marvellous, amazing, fantastic spiders - I love them. We know that they are able to travel beyond where their eight little legs can carry them; they've been found two and a half miles up in the sky and 1000 miles out to sea, and recently two researchers at the University of Bristol were able to demonstrate that it was far more than just random wind power that propelled them.  Spiders can actually sense the Earth’s electric field and use it to launch themselves into the air.

These researchers "... put the arachnids on vertical strips of cardboard in the centre of a plastic box, and then generated electric fields between the floor and ceiling of similar strengths to what the spiders would experience outdoors.  These ruffled tiny sensory hairs on the spiders' feet... In response the spiders performed a set of movements called tiptoeing - they stood on the ends of their legs and stuck their abdomens in the air...  Many of the spiders actually managed to take off, despite being in closed boxes with no airflow within them..."   

Now I don't know if this sort of stuff interests you as much as it does me, but you can read the full article here.

All this leads me to think that, one day when we've properly fucked up the planet and each other, leaving behind a world inhabited only by the last surviving creatures of the non-human variety, they will fare very well indeed.  Whereas me - well, Mrs Sibley did still clean my room, and moved my toys, unnerved by a fluffy spider with pipe cleaner legs - I'm merely human.

This gives me a good excuse to post some Australian '80s garage punk in the form of the Lime Spiders too, don't you think?!

Tuesday 2 July 2019


This kind of edge

Not this

56 years ago today in an East End hospital my mum was having a very hard time.  She was trying to give birth to a baby which had somehow got itself stuck the wrong way round and was determined to come out feet first – a breech birth.  At least that’s what she always gave as the reason for any subsequent occasion when I behaved awkwardly and uncooperatively and, to be honest, there were many.    I too am happy to blame it on the fact that I couldn’t even enter the world the right way up - I think it sort of set a precedent.

So I find myself reflecting on this today, the anniversary of my upside down arrival on the planet, because I think I’m having a teensy weensy bit of an existential crisis.  Nothing serious, don't worry. Just one of those phases when you find yourself thinking and then having aBOOF!moment – like a sudden metaphorical punch in the gut – when you consider just  how much time you’ve actually been alive and what the future might hold.  Oh shit.  I don't mean the nursing homes or the tablets - let's not even go there - I mean the damping down of our personal fires.   It feels like one of those cinematic effects commonly used in horror films, when the camera draws back from its subject in a series of abrupt, increasingly distant moves, creating a sense of growing unease, of disconnection with the scenery.  Not that I’m going to descend into the depths of despair about it.  Oh no - instead I just feel my inner awkward, rebellious spirit getting particularly fidgety, wanting to kick against conformity and middle aged blandness more than ever.  I’m feeling a need to keep my edges sharpened; I fear they’ve been getting a little too blunt lately, like I've let things rust, or start to atrophy. (Mixed metaphors must also be a symptom.)  Anyway, I never did feel comfortable fitting neatly into the mainstream, so why start now?

Maybe I’ve just seen too many clich├ęd adverts (for 'seniors') featuring insipid people discussing their prize roses and pension plans as if that's all life has ever been about.  Overheard too many twee conversations in the supermarket about golf and jacuzzis.  Been surrounded by too many Middle Englanders with their misplaced pride and their nasty, petty prejudices, and read about too many opinionated arseholes with closed minds and tight lipped, mean-spirited ways.  I witnessed a trumped-up older man - a 'jobsworth' type - having a go at a younger man on the Tube as I made my way back from London on Friday (after a lovely day) and I felt ashamed to be closer to him in age than the subject of his ire.  Okay, so his 'fire' hadn't been damped down, but his attitude was so narrow, his sense of entitlement obnoxious. By contrast I then spent the longer part of my journey home sat with five great, bright young people...the difference pulled me up short.  After all, being a kind, decent person and keeping your edge are not mutually exclusive.

So, with the exception of good trousers, I'm just not ready for the straight and narrow, and the passing of another year has brought some things into sharp relief.  I reckon it's probably a good thing.  (Perhaps it'll help me blog more?)

Other than all that, though, I’m having a lovely birthday... :-)

Jarvis Cocker's new single has been my earworm of the week...it seems oddly apt.

Sunday 30 June 2019

Through the past comically

I was given an unexpected early birthday present last week.  It had been tied up in a gold ribbon and tucked away in a corner in the local charity shop.  Honestly, when Mr SDS pulled it out of the tatty recycled Sainsbury’s bag and I laid eyes on its crumpled edges and yellow age spots (it happens to the best of us)… well, the neighbours would have been within their rights to complain about the noise.

Oohh! Ahh!

That was just at first sight.  Once I’d snipped off the ribbon and excitedly delved into the contents, things just got better and better.

See if you agree...

It was a bundle of familiar children's comics from the late '60s.

As if it wasn't about as good as it gets to include my favourite Pogles, there were The Herbs too...

...and things just carried on getting better with every turn of every page...  Oh Bizzy Lizzy, I wanted to be you.

Better and better!  I was in love with Joe.  I've only ever met one other person who remembers him, though.  Fab illustrations.  Ooh!

Ooh ahh...


And then there's this...  But, aged six, I liked him so much, he was an artist and an animal lover and he could have taught me to swim, I wanted him to be my Dad.  I know, I know.

Let's get back to real heroes!

Thursday 20 June 2019

Free enterprise

I just found out it’s 'National Freelancers Day' today - ooh!

Does that mean I can take the day off to celebrate?  Oh if only!  I won’t be hanging out the bunting and baking a special cake because I’m far too busy freelancing.  But still, time for a quick shout-out to all my fellow freelancers and perhaps we can blow our own trumpets for a brief moment (especially if you're a freelance trumpeter.)

Because freelancing is about so much more than what you actually freelance at. 

Me, I’m a full-time freelance illustrator but in order to provide what clients pay me for I also have to be my own unsalaried Bookkeeper / Materials Buyer / Mail Clerk / Credit Controller / IT Manager / Packer / Secretary / Head of PR, Customer Service and Personal Development / Administrator / Building Maintenance Manager, and Office Cleaner.  And Boss.  (I might have to sack the Cleaner...)

There are of course far harder and much more important/responsible jobs but ultimately it's immensely satisfying to know that you've done it all on your own, in spite of the inevitable precariousness of a fluctuating income and those frequent 7-day working weeks.  Plus there's no commuting!  So to my fellow freelancers (6% of UK workers) and your devoted self-reliance, whatever your field:  toot toot!

Sunday 16 June 2019

Spare art

Austin Osman Spare.  What a name!  Sounds like a classic car part.  Is/was he real?  What is/was he famous for?  Hey – STOP what you’re doing– step away from your phone!  Don’t go looking it up on Google or any other search engine.  Because ‘Google’ and ‘search engines’ don’t exist.  The internet does not exist.  Home computers are no more than futuristic fantasies.  You use typewriters and a big plastic phone with a curly lead, that plugs into the wall.  You have no way of finding out anything at all about a character you’ve never heard of before, other than asking around your more cultured friends.

 “Ever heard of this guy? He’s featured in this song - Austin Osman Spare.” 

“No, sorry.  Can’t help you there.”

Or you could try looking him up in the town library, home to thousands of hardback books with little ticket envelopes stuck to their title pages, but where would you even begin?    All you know is that Austin Osman Spare apparently “painted daydreams”.   He also “painted nightmares” if those lyrics you made a note of are to be believed.  Do you go to the section on Art? - Dewey Decimal classification somewhere round the 700 mark? – peruse the spines of dozens of oversize tomes on the subject in the hope that one might mention him, even if only briefly.   It might at least give you a starting point.  You’ll need your sandwiches with you and a flask of coffee… you’re in for the long haul... running your finger down the tiny index listings in the back pages until your vision blurs into kaleidoscopic patterns.    And even then your search could be utterly fruitless; Austin Osman Spare might not even be real.

We just had to suck it up once upon a time, safe in the knowledge of our lack of knowledge, accepting of the fact that there were some  facts we’d never find, at least not until the internet was invented one day in the future by which time we had probably forgotten what it was we wanted to know anyway.  And of course even that was a fact we couldn’t know.  It was back in the era of typewriters and curly leads when I first heard a song entitled 'Austin Osman Spare' and was intrigued by the person written about in the lyrics, yet unable to discover a single thing about him because of all the above.  We take so much for granted now.  

The song was by the Bulldog Breed, a British band who were sort of part psych / part pop / part prog I suppose, and who were around in the late sixties – a musical period I was delving into nearly twenty years after the event, having been too young first time round -  but only much much later was I able to find out that Austin Osman Spare was indeed a real person.  I do like this song with its phased vocals and psychedelic vibe.

As for Austin, he was an artist and occultist, best known for his dark and often sexual imagery and his figurative linework, not dissimilar to the work of Aubrey Beardsley (I really like it).  He was interested in Black Magic and a friend and associate of Aleister Crowley.  Born in the late 1800s, he lived until 1956. Type his name into your favourite search engine and pages and pages about him and his pictures appear.

The artist

The art

The song

Suddenly I find myself doubting all that I have written above about not knowing who he was for years. How can there ever have been a time when you couldn’t find something out immediately? You hear a name, you don’t know who it is, you look it up online, your question is answered along with dozens of other questions you didn't even ask and you move on, whilst those oversize art books in the town library quietly gather dust.

I guess someone somewhere, who wasn't even born in the '80s when I first came across Mr Spare, might be doing that right now after hearing a Bowie song for the first time.   

“Every heard of this guy? He’s featured in this song – Andy Warhol."

"No, sorry. Can't help you there. Have you Googled him?" 

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