Friday, 29 April 2022

Jackdaw days

He was free to come and go, I didn't want him to feel trapped or unable to wander wherever his natural instincts took him.   So sometimes he slipped through the gate and took a walk down the path behind the cottages to who knows where, and I wondered if I'd ever see him again, but then I'd look out later and, ah - there he was.  He never went for long.

Strikingly pale eyes.  Satin blue black back, smoky grey head.  An adult jackdaw in the garden - nothing that unusual perhaps but, unfortunately, in spite of no signs of injured wings or legs, this one was unable to fly and he'd been quietly taking refuge here for two weeks.

I know I shouldn't let myself become so emotionally invested but I seem to be wired that way... worrying about cats and sparrowhawks and foxes getting to him, worrying that he'd starve, so I did my best to provide food and water and not to spook him when I was outside.  There were places for him to hide and shelter, and he seemed to be doing ok given his fundamental weakness.  He was too shy, and too fast on those two legs, to attempt catching for 'rehab' purposes - besides, I didn't want either of us to go through the trauma of trying.  So my wish was that eventually he'd find the energy to stretch those shiny wings and take off to the treetops and chimney pots, and to be as free as a.... well, of course.   Just as a jackdaw should be.  In the meantime I knew he was vulnerable and prepared myself for a less happy outcome - but at least I'd know I tried my best.

All these thoughts of jackdaws had me searching for an appropriate song...  and I was pleasantly surprised to find one.  It also happens to be from an artist who has been much lauded over at Brian's place and his name is Martin Newell.

Our lovely blogging pal Brian over in Seattle is so much more familiar with Martin Newell's output than I'll ever be, so I really recommend reading up about him and having a listen to some tracks there. But I first came across the man as the vocalist with the band Gypp, a fairly local outfit who used to play various haunts in East Anglia in around '78/'79 including the one I frequented as a young teenager.  I just have a memory of a skinny, very English and rather eccentric wild-haired guy in a hat and I think probably very little has changed in the interim and, although I don't remember much about how Gypp sounded at the time, listening to some of Martin's much later songs I can hear '60s influences, shades of Robyn Hitchcock and The Dukes Of Stratosphear.   I was also interested to read about him and his later band The Cleaners From Venus (what a name) in the wonderful and highly recommended book 'Lost In Music' by Giles Smith (it's about time I read that again I think, and if you haven't, then why not?!)  Blogger won't let me insert a youtube version of the Cleaners From Venus song I have in mind here - 'Jackdaw Days' - but I found it on the Bandcamp page so here's a link:

The Cleaners From Venus: Jackdaw Days

Sadly the jackdaw died this morning, but it was peacefully in the undergrowth, thankfully not savaged by a cat or sparrowhawk or fox.  His last two weeks in the garden were hopefully pretty chilled with food, water, shelter, lots of bird company and this peculiar woman looking out for him.   Inspecting him more closely as I went to put him in the ground today, I started to wonder if he simply died of old age.

Sunday, 3 April 2022

Daylight robbery

I don’t know whether we look more like ageing beatnik chicks or Mafia wives, all of us dressed in black and with chic boots and dark glasses.  One friend wearing a smartly tailored coat, the other with her nails immaculately polished, me with crimson painted lips.  We make our way to an old building at the end of town - coincidentally the same place we’d convened many times long ago - in fact, over forty years back.  It was once the venue where, with wide-eyed adolescent adulation, we'd watched Siouxsie & The Banshees perform before they’d even got a record deal and where we’d seen Adam & The Antz many months prior to the release of ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ (oh, how to make yourself feel ancient!)  Also where the Newtown Neurotics and Crass became our local heroes.  I could go on.  But it's certainly a building full of ghosts from our past, and I half expect to see a gaggle of punks around each corner and to delve into my handbag for Polos to hide the smell of forbidden cigarettes from my parents.  Ah, there are parts of me which would go back to that time in a heartbeat; I’d skip the teenage angst and the school night curfews, but…yes, the gigs!

Anyway, here we are at our old stomping ground (no longer that music venue and arts centre), three women in our late fifties, about to embark on something completely new.  That’s one of the things about getting older, isn’t it?  That there are fewer and fewer ‘first times’.  But this experience is still uncharted territory; it’s definitely the first time any of us has robbed a bank…

An hour later, as orange lights flash and alarms sound around us, we are sitting in the back of a transit van, leaving behind us a trail of gold bars, magnetic keys, bank cards and a gun.  Oops, did I say gun?  I do of course mean a grabber stick.  We’ve ordered a pizza for a security guard and laced it with laxative so that he’s waylaid in the loo.  We’ve hidden in cupboards, hacked a computer and fiddled with frustrating padlocks.  There was that moment when each of us tried to turn one of those number locks by torchlight, on the underside of a table it was, too - but the glare was too much for our glasses…that’s the problem with varifocals, I find.   I must bear that in mind should I ever want to pull off another heist.  Still, in spite of that somehow we’re not quite yet too old for this malarkey, because it’s undoubtedly one of the daftest, silliest things I’ve done in a long while and the laughter along with our bank-robbing ineptitude will remain with me for some time.

Of course no security guard was harmed in the process and the gold bullion was made of wood, but as far as those ‘first times’ go, my first ‘Escape Room’ experience was a good one... 

Well, it had to be this!

Thursday, 17 March 2022

Desert sand

Yesterday afternoon, here in the East of England, the skies turned an eerie yellow-brown before swathes of grey merged with it like watercolour paint and the rain came lashing down. 

This morning, dry and sunny, the sky is fresh forget-me-not blue, but what’s this stuff on the doorstep? On the window-panes? On the gutter, on the lid of the water butt too … dusty orange splatters and little powdery piles of…. paprika?! I wipe my finger across it softly - ah, is it sand? Indeed, a quick online search tells me that Storm Celia has picked up Saharan dust and blown it across Europe, and now much of it has landed here in the puddles of yesterday’s showers. 

I can’t help but like the thought of that and find something strangely romantic about the idea that part of a desert over 2000 miles away has ended up in my garden without any human intervention. I feel the same about migrating birds and insects, fascinated by the mystery of their journey, the pure power of nature, and how these phenomena somehow shrink the world. 

It reminded me of my one visit to a proper desert, 25 years ago. I was lucky enough to get a free trip to Dubai, thanks to a job at the time. It wasn’t the same Dubai then as it is now – not so much the millionaires’ megacity with its rapidly accelerating construction and outrageously tall skyscrapers, but instead both lower rise and lower key. Away from the hotels and souks and the creek with its (suitably) creaky dhows were those vast expanses of butterscotch sand, punctuated by tufted grass and some lightly smelly, but really rather lovely, camels. They struck me as being very gentle creatures. The sheer quietness of the desert was like nothing I’ve ever known. 

I found that trip memorable, even before the plane touched down. The two young Arab women seated next to me as we left London were stunningly beautiful and long-limbed, heavily made up and wearing designer label Western clothes - I felt hideously ugly, stumpy and shabby beside them.  Friendly and sweet, I think they felt sorry for me as, just before landing, they offered me a generous spritz of the expensive perfume they were spraying on themselves. Oh god, I clearly smelt as bad as I looked (and readily accepted). Then, in their tight skirts and shiny high heeled shoes they took it in turns to disappear to the loo and came out fully concealed in hijab and abaya, ready to return to Emirati culture after their British jaunt. 

I was with a small band of strangers on that trip and we did all the usual touristy things - getting bumped about in a dune buggy as well as on a camel’s back, trying out a hookah pipe, all that. I also spent a free hour in a very modern shopping centre and found a store selling music. It was very mainstream but I like this thing of buying music when you go somewhere unfamiliar so that it's inextricably linked to your travels whenever you play it. In this instance I picked up the best thing I could find which was ‘Man’ by Neneh Cherry. Not an album I kept in the long term but, who knows, after being donated to a charity shop maybe it ended up thousands of miles away once again,  just like this morning's desert sand.

Sunday, 6 March 2022

Songs that make you smile

How are you doing?  I must admit that, like many I’m sure, I’m finding the ever-increasing sadness, insanity and worries about the world quite difficult to deal with, especially from our position of relative powerlessness.   We can only do whatever kind things we can from this distance, whilst finding our personal coping mechanisms and, hopefully, talking things through as needed.   I thought I’d also have a look at what the professionals recommend and decided it might be an idea to tackle it from a different angle, as in, how do you talk to your children about this stuff?  Not because I have any young offspring to help through it, but simply because I reckon I could do with having a grown-up chat with my own inner child!

I read this article by Philippa Perry, author and psychotherapist, she of the black-and-white hair and missus to lovely artist, ceramicist and national treasure Grayson.  I think she speaks a lot of sense here, but there are a couple of things she says which particularly stood out for both my adult and inner child self.

There’s this one:

"The best thing we can all do if we are not in a war zone is to appreciate the relative peace we have..."

And this:

"We can remind them that concern is natural and it's good that they feel for people getting bombed and fleeing their homes, but it is our duty to enjoy our freedom as we have it now..."

Thanks, Philippa.  I think there can be a tendency to feel guilty about this but of course it helps no-one, so a duty to at least appreciate and enjoy whatever freedom we have sounds balanced and healthy.  It's also one of the reasons I had an urge to blog again today (I know, so soon!), because I've been thinking about songs which are so enjoyable that they just make you smile, whatever else is going on in life.

When I say "smile", I mean those genuinely involuntary ones - those big, helpless beams, those goofy grins, maybe with a little spontaneous laughter thrown in too.  They probably don't happen that often in response to a song, but maybe there's some mileage in the idea because there are a couple I can think of already at least.  And here's the first one - it's 'Hertz' by Amyl & the Sniffers, and it gets me every time.

Amyl & the Sniffers: Hertz

I've a lot of affection for this bunch of Australian punks anyway but there's just something about the way that their enthusiastic singer Amy Taylor makes her demand so forthrightly - "TAKE ME TO THE BEACH, TAKE ME TO THE COUNTRY!" - which tickles me.  I think it's that odd combination of quite a romantic notion being expressed in such a forceful, bratty way.  There's no subtlety, although it's all about getting away from the city to be somewhere nicer, with fresh air, hand in hand with someone, with the breeze in her hair (as well as a little backseat love action.  And fish'n'chips. Sounds pretty good to me).  What with that, her unadulterated accent,  the song's irresistible catchiness and the OTT guitar break.... anyway, it simply makes me smile like an idiot, usually when I've heard it on the radio while I'm working and I'm just grateful that nobody but the sparrows can see me. 

Are there any songs which just make you smile, no matter what?  Is there a potential series here, I wonder, open to guest contributions, if you fancy telling us more?   You'd be very welcome, always.  Our inner children could probably do with some extra smiles.

Sunday, 27 February 2022


I feel like a total fraud, calling myself a blogger when I haven't written anything here in nearly two months. I can only thank you for bearing with me. Unfortunately I've been working seven days a week for some time now (and not over yet), and it doesn't leave the kind of headspace I need for this place.  I do need quite a lot, it's crowded up there.  Secondly, it's made worse by that thing where the longer you leave something the harder it is to get back to. Suddenly a small step turns into a giant leap (I may be muddling up a historic quote from somewhere there).  But anyway, that's how it goes on... how to break the break?

So today - some self discipline is in order. Don't do any work, don't even look at it, don't even think about it! Take the day off. I've been for a long walk in the sunshine with a keen wind whipping my face, oh it felt good. Then I drank some wine with lunch. Oh, that felt good too. And nibbled a piece of rich 70% dark chocolate with my cuppa. Doesn't get much better!

 And now I must write something on here, if for no other reason than that today marks an anniversary, as - and I'm not sure how it happened - this blog is eleven years old today! Shocking.  Eleven years ago I couldn't have imagined the situation the world finds itself in now. I'm not sure off the top of my head what was in the news back then but surely it must have been a lot less alarming and desperately sad?  Now, there's a good reason to try and breathe a little life back into these pages if I can.  

So while I'm here, just a few pics taken on my walk this morning, the first time I've been up to the old mansion grounds at the top of the hill since the recent storms.  

I was saddened, but not surprised, to see some of my beloved trees had succumbed to either Dudley or Eunice.  This long avenue is lined by lime trees originally planted over 400 years ago.  Some have been replaced but many bear their years well, tall and elegant, entwined in mistletoe and ivy.  So this was perhaps the most shocking, much bigger than it looks in the pic

...leaving such a huge hole in the ground that is almost as deep as I am tall:

And 'Lagartija Nick'  has lost his whip!  Doesn't seem so devilish now, but perhaps it will grow back.

But the sheep are out, the dog-walkers, the snowdrops. The birds are in song, eyeing up nesting sites (and each other), happily oblivious to the troubles of the world.  And once I get my current workload out of the way I hope I can add to their voices - preferably some time before this blog turns twelve.

Tuesday, 4 January 2022

Stone me!

Could it be?

Could it?

Could this object, nestled in the palm of my hand, have also nestled in the palm of another hand (probably a much hairier one) 12000 years ago or more?

Well, I don't know, but I've become mildly obsessed with this beautiful piece of flint I found in the garden and the idea that it might be a small Stone Age tool.  A hand axe perhaps, or a scraper.  It caught my eye ages ago and I kept it with the bird skulls, fragments of china, pieces of clay pipe and even a mummified baby rat amongst other random objects that comprise my personal little Garden Finds Museum (admission is free but please phone ahead).  I kept it because I thought it looked lovely; there's something compelling about it aesthetically - you could say that it "spoke" to me when I first discovered it in the soil.  It feels good too, it feels good in my hand.   It was only recently when I stumbled across some images of  Paleolithic tools that I suddenly thought about it differently and started to wonder if there had been some human intervention in its formation thousands of years ago.

My mild obsession has led me to numerous websites where I'm learning about things which might help identify whether or not that could be the case.  I'm finding out about striking points, bulbs of percussion, negative flake scars, distal termination and ripples - all sorts of things that sound like progressive rock album titles.  It's amazing what info you can absorb when you're interested and yet if you tried to teach me about managerial accounting or Coldplay's back catalogue I wouldn't remember a thing.

Perhaps it's more likely that this is just a flake of flint which was naturally battered by time and thermal changes and/or broken by the blades of a combine harvester, but I'd still like to fantasise that it came courtesy of a half naked man with strong, skilled hands and a pet mammoth called Brian*.  Ok, that last part might be a bit far-fetched, but still, could it have a back story?  I may try to find out more.  I'm prepared for a disappointment on the history front but its beauty remains, regardless.

And to go with it, here's a piece of Jurassic beat, very sub-Crampsian and not quite as old as it sounds...

Eddie Angels: Caveman (1993)

* After my friend's cat - not our lovely blogging pal!

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