Saturday 18 January 2020

Alien invasion

Aargh, I’m feeling very sorry for myself.  I’m on antibiotics and painkillers, thanks to a nasty infection inside one of my cheeks (apparently the culprit is likely a cracked tooth).  The right side of my face now resembles a cross between a Cabbage Patch doll and a chipmunk.... all swollen as if I’m storing nuts in it for the Winter, skin shiny and stretched like an overblown balloon - it’s not a good look.

And it hurts and I’m tired and and antiobiotics bring you down, don’t they?  So what do you do when you feel like shit?  You find yourself irresistibly drawn to tacky 1960s so-bad-they're-good sci-fi films ...

Thank goodness for ‘The Terrornauts’ being aired on the charming ‘Talking Pictures TV' channel earlier today.  I’ve caught quite a few gems (I almost typed ‘germs’ then, how apt) on this station, I get hooked in quite easily by anything from the ‘30s and ‘40s for instance, often with wooden acting and those strange clipped British accents that no longer exist.  And the outdated language – those frightful scoundrels!   I’m mesmerised by the décor in the houses (they can make me feel quite funny, as if I’ve been there in a previous life).  Ancient city sequences do it too – the sit-up-and-beg cars trundling down half-empty streets and thin people in hats and coats looking in Georgian-glazed shop windows, or those heady bucolic scenes where the birdsong is overpowering and you can almost smell the blossom, even in black-and-white.  Frequently the stories in these films come second, I just like immersing myself in their atmosphere.

1960s films are natural favourites too;  style and fashion and subject matters often more resonant, some evoking my own ‘60s early childhood – and movies featuring bands or groovy soundtracks are of special interest of course.   But there’s nothing quite like the ambitious yet amateurish props and op-art sets of 1960s sci-fi to soothe a sore face.

For sheer silliness ‘The Terrornauts’ (1967) had it all.  I curled up on the sofa this morning and welcomed its ridiculousness.  The main hero, Joe, played by Simon Oates, was immediately recognisable from his role in popular TV series ‘Doomwatch’ and stayed quite serious to the last even though he had to deliver a classic f’nar f’nar moment  about a strange alien device, “It’s a kind of vibrator, can’t you feel it?”  

His sidekicks were a somewhat mixed bunch including Charles Hawtrey , immediately bringing to mind the Carry On films, and Patricia Hayes, whose comically prosaic lines delivered in characteristic Cockney accent didn’t disappoint.    I love the way some people  can be abducted and transported through outer space in the middle of the night and yet they never panic...   

As hoped, and expected, there were plenty of kitchen implements too disguised as spacecraft, swimming cap headwear with wires attached (that our heroes plugged into funnels on top of boxes through which ‘knowledge’ could be transferred to their brains), a feathery sort of monster with tentacles, one crab claw and a juddering (cardboard?) eye on its side worthy of any small child’s drawing, and some nasty alien ‘savages’ with green skin wielding spears, whose thirst for (female, of course) sacrifice put actress Zena Marshall’s life in danger...  sort of.

Here's a brilliant trailer:

Just the tonic I need, especially as I'm looking and feeling like I've been invaded by aliens myself right now.  Pass the penicillin...!

Sunday 12 January 2020

Forever punk?

"Oh YES, that’s exactly it!” I exclaimed excitedly at the telly.  Or, more precisely, at Chris Packham on the telly.  And it happened more than once as I watched the recent BBC Four programme, ‘Chris Packham - Forever Punk’;  it was that jubilant feeling of being a kindred spirit, that understanding of why a certain musical movement seemed so important to those of us who felt like outsiders in our early teenage years (and maybe still do...)   Confirmation that punk was there for us and, yes, it did change things.

I’ve never really felt I’ve been able to get this across effectively to anyone who either ‘wasn’t there’ or who only picked up on what the papers urged them to at the time.  I remember once, soon after I’d left school in the Summer of ‘79, I was talking to a friend I met at college and it turned out that her neighbour had been my former Geography teacher, Mrs T.  Apparently a conversation about me had taken place  – I’d made quite a name for myself at school being the only girl there with an overtly punk image (which got me into a lot of difficulty, but that’s another story).  Mrs T told my friend she had been surprised when I had become a ‘punk rocker’ (a term which only people who didn’t get it would use!) because I was too (in her words) "nice”...   always the quiet one, a nerdy, shy student... it didn’t fit with the media’s portrayal of punks as gobbing, spitting, fighting yobs.

I never knew any gobbing, spitting, fighting yobs who were into punk.  Not one.  Any bristling aggression against the world, against injustice, right-wing politics and persecution - all valid targets - was channelled into music.  We were harassed and insulted by many non-punks, though.  Shouted at from across the street, barred from pubs and shops before we’d even opened our mouths, chased, even beaten up for our choice of clothes and hairstyle.  All this abuse came from non-punks – and often the straightest of people.  Funny, that.  What was it they found so threatening, so offensive, about a few kids in fluffy mohair jumpers, bleached hair and badges?

One of my “Oh YES, that’s exactly it!” moments during the programme came when Chris articulated how inaccurate that thuggish tabloid caricature was and that punk had been much more about inclusiveness.  Right from the start my own experience illustrated this too – punk felt like a place where us ‘outsiders’ could be on the inside, on our own terms.  The scene at my local music venue was a perfect example; a friendly gaggle of local teenage punks alongside a motley crew of others who just fitted in for not fitting in elsewhere.  And they genuinely liked the music.  C with his shoulder-length hair and Afghan coat, L with his thick-lensed glasses and total lack of sartorial style, a good few years older than the rest of us and like a kindly uncle, plus his biker mate W.  N, who booked all the bands, a little bloke in little round specs and a big hippy greatcoat.  At one time there was J, a lovely black guy who put flour in his hair to give it a bright white streak, as well as ex-public school boy/geeky punk E.   As Chris said in this interview in the NME , “Punk was never unkind.  It was about fairness and equality.”

The documentary drew attention to the causes with which punk associated itself, such as Rock Against Racism, and how the release of the Tom Robinson Band’s single ‘Glad To Be Gay’ early in 1978 was a ground-breaking moment that could only have happened at that special point in time, proof of punk’s whole ethos of defiance and standing up for the right to be different. 

In my view punk was a brief, once-only event, and from its early, genuinely rebellious and more creative/artistic origins, aspects of  it inevitably evolved in ways that weren’t always so positive (e.g. the Oi! movement) – then, as so often happens, things became more watered down and appropriated.  But other good things happened because of it. Now too we have a whole new crop of bands clearly influenced by it (e.g. Idles, Slaves, Savages, Fontaines DC, etc.) and the state of contemporary music is all the better for them.  I guess we still call them punk but it's intrinsically different just through no longer being a new nor shocking phenomenon.   Still, if we go right back to what drew us to punk's initial incarnation all those years ago, it does make sense that its spirit should live on forever.  For me that doesn’t mean trying to dress like you did when you were 15, nor even playing your old Adverts records all that often, it’s about maintaining faith in who you are, caring about equality and staying true to what you believe in, however non-conformist that may be in the eyes of the mainstream.

I won’t give too much more away about the programme in case you haven’t seen it and want to catch it on BBC iPlayer (here), but it was interesting to see some old faces and to be reminded of how well a lot of people have come out of it (even though our teachers may have told us we wouldn’t!)  Many are still motivated to bring about some positive change in any small way they can.  I came away feeling quite uplifted and even more pleased to have this history in common with Chris, whom I’ve long been inspired by and admired for all things nature-connected anyway.  And he does have a fantastic record collection!

We’re not so bad, eh, us old punks?!

Chris Packham's all-time favourite punk song is 'Shout Above The Noise' by Penetration,
but this is the Penetration song that truly spoke to me...

Friday 3 January 2020

Mind over matter

I’m sure it used to sizzle and spark and fizzle and twitch, that it flickered and flashed far more quickly and frequently than it does now.  To be honest, now it feels somewhat flaccid – flabby, even.  I need to find a way to fire it right up again and push it to its full potential.

My brain.

Even writing this seems to take more effort than it used to.  I sort of splutter now... I used to be more fluid, I’m sure, with ideas and thoughts almost falling over themselves to get out and onto the page, vocabulary vying for attention, sometimes a little wit (hopefully) teasing at the edges.  Is it just age, or lack of practice, or even lack of discipline, that slowly starts to erode our faculties?  Do our brains get full after so many years absorbing everything and take it upon themselves to do a bit of arbitrary weeding?  If so, I think mine has accidentally chucked out some of my more exotic blooms.   Perhaps it’s a combination of all these factors.  I’m in awe at my younger self soaking up so much in those early educational years because it was just what you did - even with all those growing up distractions like hula-hoops, The Banana Splits and boys.  Now I wonder how the hell did I manage to switch between understanding topography one minute to memorising the conditional tense in French the next?  Then go home and listen to the Clash’s first album and remember every single word in the lyrics too...

Of course, I don’t want a flabby floppy brain!  I reckon it needs a good work-out.  I want its cells to flash like fireworks, each spark igniting another until my head practically lights up with mental energy so that I can subtract 57 from 124 without breaking into a sweat and remember the name of that actor who was in that film which had that scene with that curly-haired man who was in that programme called...oh.... (definitely having more of a problem remembering names than ever).    I even bought a book once, ‘The Memory Booster Workout’, but I keep forgetting to look at it....(ba-dum tish).   In fact I feel like my brain needs a good kick up the arse, if you see what I mean.

But there is hope!   Recent research has shown it IS possible to grow new brain cells throughout our lives and keep things changing more positively.  So maybe it's worth making a concerted effort to buff up those weaker zones, and this is why I decided yesterday, albeit with a certain degree of trepidation, to put myself through the rather grandly named  ‘Great British Intelligence Test’.  Ooh!

I won’t give anything away, except to say that if you fancy doing the same it’s quite good fun in a strangely masochistic kind of way and I felt quite reassured by the results, as well as getting some insights, which isn’t a bad way to start off a new year (if you ignore the state of the world, political landscape, climate crisis, etc....)

However, my brain does still need a kick up the arse.

Read more here , test your brain power too and your results will contribute to further research (you don’t have to be UK citizen to participate).

And all the best for 2020! x
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