Saturday 24 December 2022

Creepy compliments of the season!

 Ah, it's that time again, and it just wouldn't be the same here without some bizarre and creepy (or really rather wonderful, depending on your viewpoint!) seasonal Victorian art to usher in the festive season:

Wishing you all a warm and peaceful Christmas time whatever you do and thank you, as always, for being there x

Sunday 18 December 2022

Abstract moment of the week #13

Oh dear. I have a conundrum and I just don’t know where to turn for the answer.  I’ve tried so many possibilities over and over in my brain, but to no avail.  And you know how it is sometimes, these things play on your mind, they won’t go away, they keep nagging at you and you feel as if you can’t settle until you can get to the solution.  But I just can’t crack it.  So here I am, wondering if there’s any chance that someone reading this blog may be able to help.






Here’s the conundrum:  What on earth is the question in common with all the above that made 100 people when surveyed give them as answers as the first thing they thought of?! (And in order of popularity.)

I guess that’s what happens when you’re channel-surfing on TV and come across the last few seconds of a round in an archive episode of Family Fortunes.  Never mind the floral dresses that look like they’re made from care home curtains, nor the fluffy perms, oversized suits and impersonations of Mavis from Corrie…. even those weren’t enough to distract from the conundrum in front of me: a complete set of answers but no clue about the question.  Any ideas?  I mean, clothes and jam?  What could possibly connect them? And chips?

Friday 2 December 2022

"Excuse me - do you sell records here?"

 By way of light relief as these dismal Winter days close in on us I’d like to take you to a time and place – a very specific time and place.  It's 1987 and it’s an independent record shop - sound good?  Maybe you’re imagining a rather poky but inviting establishment in a creaky old building - dimly lit with its walls papered in cool, eye-catching posters, a slight, oddly alluring smell of damp emanating from its alcoves, and every available space filled with racks of promising vinyl delights through which you could rummage for hours…

I’m so sorry to disappoint you.  Those were the kind of record shops I’d like to visit but the one I actually worked in during the mid-'80s was somewhat different.  Imagine instead a fairly open area, I suppose it would be called a ‘retail unit’, on the first floor of a busy modern shopping centre.  Harshly lit and with its high walls painted bright green, it was sited next to the pedestrian entrance of a multi-storey car park and right opposite the public toilets.  Ooh, a prime location!  But, for all the less than joyous aspects of working there, it was for the most part an interesting, quite enviable job and the staff were great.  We were great to each other and we were great to all the lovely, enthusiastic, friendly, genuine customers with their hunger for Creation label singles and obscure reissues, etc., who thankfully outnumbered a fair few rude and difficult arseholes we also had to serve (or occasionally kick out).  It was hard to be great to them.  But what none of them, not the nice ones nor the nasty ones, ever knew, was that we also kept notes of some of the items our customers asked for. 

Honestly, you need some little amusing highlights when you’ve been on your feet all day in a petrol-infused draught handing over copies of the latest Phil Collins album to a seemingly endless queue on a busy Saturday, so please forgive us.  Really, we weren’t being scornful or sniggering or unkind. We just… well…we just needed a few quiet laughs away from the demands at the counter. (I'm sure this goes on in more shops than we'd care to imagine.)  So we started keeping a list of the most delightful requests, a list that ended up running into several pages.  The thing with these requests was that they weren’t quite right – they were the misheard song titles, confused artist names, wrongly remembered albums (amid other enquiries about TDK chromosome tapes and replacements for faulty "kinky" records.)   As I always loved drawing it was just impossible to resist putting together a few visuals too so, a short while before I left my job there back in 1987, I picked out some of my favourites and compiled them into an A5 booklet with some silly little accompanying illustrations, and named it, ‘Excuse Me – Do You Sell Records Here?’  Incredibly, that had been a genuine question too.

35 years later and, amazingly, I’ve still got the booklet. So, if you'd like to, please travel back with me to the mid-1980s and take up your position as a sales assistant in that record shop, and see what you would make of some of these requests.  Here are some of those depictions with only the mistaken titles/names a customer actually used when asking for them.  Please feel free to suggest what they should be  - they're hopefully not too hard!

Saturday 26 November 2022


On the very last evening of a wonderful bloggers’ mini-meet in Edinburgh, sitting across the table from me in a pub in Rose Street that warm June night, our lovely pal The Swede unexpectedly passed me a large envelope.

What a sweet surprise!  Inside were a couple of things that he thought would interest me and he was, of course, quite right.  As a lover of art, illustration and unusual historical/cultural artefacts, I was fascinated by the mysterious little book I pulled out from the brown paper package:  ’JOY-TIME’ ! (I can’t help thinking it sounds a bit like the title of a seventies soft porn mag, the sort you’d find, as a curious adolescent, stuffed into a bin in a park during the school holidays and be somewhat horrified but equally intrigued by.  But enough of my memories.)

When I look at long-forgotten and probably, at the time, quite throwaway items like this, aimed at a very young audience, it sets off a whole host of questions.  I’m thinking it must be from the early 1960s – but what would a child think of it now?  Would they be able to make sense of these pictures easily?  The art style (with no artist credit) is really striking, with its limited inks and flat colour overlays.  Each open spread alternates between pages of orange and green only, and blue and red only, with the effect of creating one darker tone where needed from the two colours printed on top of each other.  It looks simple, but having done a bit of screen-printing in the past, I know it takes a fair bit of working out and planning.  There’s a lot of clever use of white ('negative') space too.

The illustrations might even seem a little scary, a little stark, to a child of today.  We mostly flood our books now with bright, warm colours and cuteness, not red shadows and blue hair.  And, you know what, I’m reminded (a little) of this style of tone-reduced / screenprinted artwork too, who’d have thought it?!…

… as well as a certain controversial Seditionaries ‘Cowboys’ design T-shirt which I won’t reproduce here.

But away from such adult themes and back to JOY-TIME.  What about the words?  Some of the phrases really bring home the way language has inevitably changed.

This is probably my favourite page below.  Not just because I’m a fan of ‘Birdies’ but it’s the very graphic use of those two ink colours and the areas of blank paper that I especially like here.  Notice the bird swooping top left and the one in the middle at the bottom – just formed from negative space, a difficult technique to pull off.  The blue shadow shapes too give just the right gravity.  And the way the outline of the girl’s legs are red on one side, blue on the other, which we instinctively know to translate as light and dark.   Sorry, but I get a bit of a kick from noticing this stuff - thinking about the way the artist’s brain works and trying to help mine!

Of course these pages were never intended to be critiqued sixty-odd years on from their creation.  They were just made to delight, to soothe, educate and gently stir the imagination of babies and toddlers, born, as I was, into a world where there were no CBeebies or Kindle Kids.  I very much hope that the baby Swede enjoyed it then too as much as I do now - even if for very different reasons... (And many thanks again.)

Saturday 22 October 2022

Local council

I can hear the spinning of spokes, the crunch of narrow tyres on the stony drive coming up behind me. Look around… Ohhh! Is that Paul? Paul Weller? And Mick Talbot too?! In full cycling gear, red, blue, black - bodies bent forward over the handlebars…? Yes! Riding up this long avenue between the ancient lime trees, following in my footsteps, here on such incredibly familiar ground. 

Unfortunately, I’d have to have a time machine to be in the same frame as these cycling Style Councillors – but I was there today, there on the long driveway, my absolute favourite local place to walk, just a short stroll round the corner from my home and yet I had never realised until now that it was also the setting for the video of ‘My Ever Changing Moods’. Its director, Tim Pope, creator of many a music promo for a huge number of artists (The The, Soft Cell and Talk Talk, Bowie and Neil Young all spring to mind) has a cameo part in it too. To be honest, I don’t think too much of the film, but the scenery… well, it's strange because it feels like a very close friend. One I share my secrets with, one who listens unconditionally, who soothes the soul in fractious times and makes me smile and feel alive too.  It’s a place, a haven, I wander up to so frequently and it has featured in quite a few posts here over the years. Up there today with the jackdaws chuckling in the treetops and the sheep in the distance, I took some photos to see if I could compare my view with those in the video, but the trees are still in their leafy Autumn cloaks and, thanks to storm damage over the decades, there are fewer of them than when Paul and Mick were here, and some new replacements too.   It's a place of ever changing moods; you'll just have to take my word for it.

An earlier photo from a Winter day

Still, I couldn’t stop the song going round and round in my head as I took my constitutional.  If you're a fan of the Style Council, you’d be very welcome too to come over with your bike some time and recreate that promo film – I can’t promise you the three dancing nymphs I'm afraid, but I could do you a packed lunch.

Here's the film:

A pic from today's wanderings

and one from 1984

Monday 3 October 2022

Oh Miki, you're so fine

 A cup of tea waits for me on the table, getting cold. 

Biscuits lie on a plate uneaten.

The police are outside, hammering on the door, shouting through the letterbox, threatening to ram it open if I don’t answer.  Ok, I may have embellished that last bit (it’s just the postman with a package and a polite knock) but whatever it is, sorry, I’m oblivious, in another zone…… the reading zone.   The zone you get into which makes you forget to drink your tea, ignore that Hobnob, miss that knock at the door.  The zone you get into when a book is just so absorbing that nothing else around you can compete.  And it’s all Miki Berényi’s fault!

My copy of Miki’s autobiography ‘Fingers Crossed: how music saved me from success’ arrived just a couple of days ago and I’m already completely immersed (time off from working at last!)  I’d read some pre-publication reviews and excerpts, all of which confirmed this was going to be a book I’d lap up, perhaps for the most obvious, predictable reasons: to read an inside story on her band Lush and all the musically connected musings and revelations.  But I’m only a quarter of the way through its 367 pages and her life story so far hasn’t even got to that, yet it’s still as enthralling, hair-raising, fascinating and also, at times, disturbing as any sensational tale of adult rock’n’roll exploits.

I shouldn’t really be reviewing it so early on, I’ve a ton of chapters still to go, but my enthusiasm has made me defy convention – why not? I just want to get it out there!  There is so much ahead, I know – about the formation of Lush and its interpersonal relationships, the gigs, tours, triumphs and fallouts, plus Miki’s personal encounters with the sexism in the music industry and in particular the toxicity of the lad/ladette culture within Britpop (she is not afraid to name names) – all of which I’ve no doubt will keep me captivated. An extract from the book published in the Guardian recently is wonderfully, satisfyingly and justifiably angry and I feel especially invested as a woman - I love to read about this world from a female perspective, particularly when it also covers a very relatable period in time for me (Tracey Thorn’s and Viv Albertine’s autobiographies were likewise appealing).  But Miki’s accounts of her unconventional upbringing even before any of that could almost be a book – or film - on their own.

The childhood tales which are as shocking in places as they are compelling are told with a straightforward openness and the insight and emotional intelligence that has come with age.  100-odd pages in and our author hasn’t even left school yet but already I feel as if I’m on a wild, chaotic ride – leaving me feeling very troubled at times, but I take comfort from the fact that Miki is still here now, in a different life, to recount and reflect on her experiences with distance and disarming honesty.

Anyway… a premature review this may be but perhaps my impulsive urge tells you as much about the book as any in depth one may do later.  Plus I have a feeling I’m going to be too exhausted (in a good way) by the time I get to the end of it to write anything coherent…

It also seems deserving of a *‘Swedey McSwedeface’!

And, of course, some Lush:

* The official definition of  Swedey McSwedeface can be found here

'Fingers Crossed: how music saved me from success' by Miki Berényi was published by Bonnier Books 29th September 2022

Wednesday 28 September 2022

A voyage of rediscovery

The yellow label.  A plain white paper sleeve.  Black type in sans serif font and a little logo at the top…  names and numbers and things I didn’t understand.  Whilst I’ve often waxed lyrical about the hours spent poring over the 12” cardboard album sleeves of my youth, meticulously exploring the artwork and the unknown song titles, it’s easy to overlook the simple thrill of a first 7” single purchase.  Not just the music, not just the fact that you could bring a song you'd only previously heard on the radio or on Top Of The Pops directly into your living room and access it any time of your choosing – but that very specific, peculiar pleasure to be found in every detail of its physical form. 

It was the Summer of ’76, I’d just turned 13.  With a pounding heart and my pocket money savings in my turquoise purse, I went into Boots the Chemist where there was a little space right at the back of the shop selling records, and I bought Dancing Queen by ABBA.  The yellow label and even the fact that it had a plain white paper sleeve, they're indelibly stamped on my mind… and then, ohh, the grooves of joy in that small shiny slab of black vinyl.   I was so excited!

I think my copy was very slightly warped – weirdly not badly enough to mar the song for me, but just giving it the merest hint of distortion which then became the norm to my ears.  When I hear it now, I rather miss that imperfection, that split second dip in speed in each revolution.   The sound was somewhat tinny too, but it didn’t matter one bit.  I loved Dancing Queen, it made me feel happy, uplifted.  I loved this band of exotic Swedes who had brought it to my TV screen on Thursday nights - they were grown-up and glamorous, but they had a special accessibility.  The song, alongside their image, their presence, just spoke to 13 year old girls like me. 

Just around the corner, punk was looming its head.  Punk found me when I was truly ready to rebel, pissed off with school, seeking refuge for my ever-present ‘outsider’ feelings, needing an outlet for my inner dissenter.   Stranglers, Generation X, Buzzcocks and more filled out my little 7” singles box, I studied their different labels, their exciting picture sleeves, I buzzed to their fuzz guitars.  But, before all that, before the drastic haircut, black eyeliner and a graffitied school tie, I was a double denim (or triple, if you count the waistcoat), Charlie perfume, blue eyeshadow,  ABBA fan - as so many of us were.  And still are?  Well, not the double denim, etc. – but their songs, their classiness, their story – it’s stayed with us somewhere deep down.  So it'll be strange and otherwordly, I'm sure, but I'm really looking forward to rediscovering my inner 13 year old in just under two weeks' time, when I go down to London to see the ABBA Voyage show.  And, hopefully, it'll be just as memorable as that very first single purchase 46 years ago…. 

I shall let you know!

Yes, I know it's so familiar, but, oh go on... 

Saturday 17 September 2022

Stop gap

 Argh!  Sorry.  The dust is gathering, the cobwebs billowing in the corners, the mould starting to creep up the walls – I don’t think this blog has ever been quite so neglected.  I’m absolutely fine (in case you read my last post and were wondering) just working rather relentlessly, pretty much 7 days a week, to meet a lengthy project deadline (nearly there).  I’ve had a couple of brilliant days off and thankfully got out and about, but I seem to need a certain sort of home alone, quiet and relaxed time to sit down - without anything else nagging at or distracting me - to write anything meaningful or inspired.  Seems I just haven’t had enough of those opportunities.  I don’t know how others do it (nor how I ever did it in the past), do you have any tips? 

Anyway, this is just to break the silence…  and to push myself to be back in a more communicative mode soon!

Saturday 30 July 2022

Under pressure

I had a bit of a funny turn the other week and, to be honest, it rather freaked me out.  Coming on without any warning, something weird suddenly happened to my eyesight, as if my field of vision had narrowed, and I could only make out vague, indeterminate blobs.   Scary.  Oh god, I thought - a stroke?  an aneurysm? the start of a new life as a blind person? - should I get a guide dog? - you can imagine, it all went through my mind.  After a minute or two, panicky and crouching on the kitchen floor for fear I was going to faint or fall anyway, the featureless blobs gradually reverted to relatable forms, and my brain's ‘adjust sharpness’ and ‘brightness/contrast’ controls slowly kicked back in. 

After a chat with a nurse and a doctor, it seems the culprit could be low blood pressure, but also there’s a question mark now over blood sugar, so I’m awaiting some blood tests next week. (Sorry about all this blood stuff.)  They’re checking for diabetes! I don't feel like an obvious contender for it - on the slim side, healthy eater, don't smoke - but there have been a couple of cases in my family - so, could it be in the genes?  Well, I know, it's best to find out.

Fortunately I feel ok, although occasionally a bit light-headed, so I'm on a mission to raise my blood pressure. Reading about the government helps, of course, but I'm not one to pick fights with the neighbours and I don’t read the Daily Mail so my other options are a little limited.  But drinking plenty of water raises it apparently, so I'm guzzling my way through a lot of it - my stomach just makes a lapping sound when I walk now.

Things always happen at once, though, don't they?  Not that it was serious in the grand scheme of things but a few days after that scare my dental bridge fell out (now temporarily fixed with what the dentist called 'fruit-flavoured' cement - I presume it wasn't just a strip of Juicy Fruit chewing-gum).  Some folk can look rakeish with a missing tooth but it really doesn't suit me...   And then, I caught and jammed my toe (which was naked at the time) on the edge of a very unforgiving stone step.  My little toe. The cute one! The "wee wee wee, all the way home" one.  Never mind wee, wee, wee, I was more like fuck, fuck, fuck, it hurt so much for such a small body part (and the black and blue bruising that later spanned the top of my foot really didn't go well with my turquoise toenail varnish) and I was concerned for a while that I had fractured it.

Oh well, not that it's an excuse for not blogging, but it's just felt like one of those periods when there's been other stuff to think about, unexpected appointments to attend and, perhaps most of all, just time to take the pressure off myself a little.  Whilst trying to raise it too...

Here's a song which immediately sprang to mind!

As you'll know, there are many versions of this but I'll throw in the original as well:

Thursday 30 June 2022

A matter of death and life (part two - life!)

I must say there is nothing quite like the comfort of a good hotel bed.  (Where do they get their pillows?  So perfectly plump and firm!)  The kind of bed where you should be able to slip under the fresh clean duvet, fall asleep instantly and have glorious dreams for the next eight hours….   But I didn’t.  I lay awake for ages.  So many thoughts, images, feelings were jostling for attention in my brain, refusing to form an orderly queue or to go away and come back in the morning.  And this was only the first night!

Earlier that day I’d boarded a sleek, new (and very exotic sounding) Azuma train and travelled 400 miles northward.  Having not been on a train these last two years the experience felt strangely new again.  I mean, even a visit to the onboard space age circular loo seemed a glamorous excursion.   All silver and symbols and sensory controls, I half expected to see the lovely Lieutenant Uhura waiting outside when I emerged. 

But the views from the train window were most definitely earthly and I loved the way the landscape changed from the flatlands of home to… ooh, hills!  And rocky outcrops!  Towns and cities I’ve never visited teased me with momentary flashes of their most striking assets.  The bridges spanning the Tyne…  Peterborough and Durham Cathedrals piercing the skyline…York Minster too.   Quirkier things as well, the curious ‘Mallard’ sign… 

And I’m pretty sure I let out an audible gasp at my first sight of the sea which, in spite of it being named the ‘East Coast Main Line’, still somehow took me by surprise.  It was like that feeling I had as a child en route to a seaside holiday, the excitement at turning a corner and suddenly seeing what seemed like a magical ocean at the edge of the world.  I know, I’m romanticising, it was a rather chilly looking steel-grey North Sea.  But still…

Eight hours after leaving home that morning, I was disembarking at Edinburgh Waverley Station – amazingly my very first trip over the border into Scotland - to be greeted by our lovely blog pal, Alyson.   It was great to see her familiar face; we had met up just once before in London and felt then as if we’d known each other for ages.  And that’s the beautiful thing about blogging, the way strangers can connect, get a sense of understanding and camaraderie, just through what we express, and how…  but more on that later.  As if I hadn’t been excited enough by the journey, there was so much yet to come – a few more people to meet, some for the first time, others to reconnect with, places to see,  music to hear (not just the bagpipes on the Royal Mile which take busking to a whole new level), tales to be shared, drinks to be consumed – naturally - and hugs (hugs at last!)  to be had…  A long-awaited bloggers’ ‘mini-meet’ had finally, appropriately, come together in this beautiful city. No wonder I didn’t sleep very well that night... my senses were most definitely working overtime.

More in part three.

Monday 20 June 2022

A matter of death and life (part one)

What a week it’s been…

The phone call from the hospital came last Sunday afternoon and we knew that a long and difficult saga was drawing to a close.  My dear old mum-in-law’s health had been deteriorating both mentally and physically for the last couple of years, so it wasn’t unexpected.  We saw her for the final time on Sunday evening, short of breath and unresponsive, but there was a peacefulness about her too and I like to think she was still somehow aware of the familiar voices and comforting touch, and perhaps they helped her to just let go.  Still, feisty to the last, she hung on for one more night and then finally went on Monday afternoon.

Well, my mum-in-law has made an appearance on this blog before and now seems a good time to remind myself of that.  I mean, she was the mother of an anarcho-punk guitarist with an occasional penchant for black nail varnish, whose girlfriend used to turn up at their home from the bus in a pink velvet jacket and leopard spot trousers… she was bound to pick up on some rock’n’roll trivia!  Proof came many years later, when she was in her 80s, and Mr SDS spotted her filling in a crossword puzzle with the letters:  M  O  T  O  R  H  E  A  D .  The clue was simply ‘Lemmy’s rock band’…   

We naturally started to harbour secret suspicions that, tucked away amid the kitten ornaments and well-thumbed copies of the TV Times, there might be a copy of ‘No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith’.  Not only that we thought but, perhaps carefully disguised within a Tom Jones album cover, there would also be an original issue of ‘Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’, after we noticed this completed puzzle page:


(It's not very clear but the box on the right has the clue ‘Pink Floyd founder, ____ Barrett’)

Anyway, here’s to my mum-in-law Eileen, who lived a long and happy life in the same little village where she’d spent her childhood.  She loved her crosswords and her fish’n’chips, and was so generous with the bulging bags of crisps, chocolates and biscuits that she gave us every Christmas that we probably still have a few packets of Jammy Dodgers and onion rings left in the back of the cupboard from 2006…   I fondly remember the early days of getting to know her when she’d feed us with Findus Crispy Pancakes (the cheesy ones) and the best home-made date cake I’ve ever tasted.  RIP Eileen.

Unfortunately, therefore, it wasn’t the best timing that the morning after she died I was due to be travelling 400 miles and staying away in Edinburgh until the Friday, but it was for a brief yet exciting adventure that had been 2 years in the waiting, and Mr SDS wouldn’t have wanted me to miss it.  It felt strange to leave him home alone at such a time, but at least we could communicate by phone and it was only for a few days.  And what a few days!  From thinking and talking so much about death at that moment, I was lucky enough to go off for a fantastic new experience in the loveliest of company (which you may soon, if not already, be reading about elsewhere) and it was at the opposite end of the spectrum: positively life-affirming.

More on that in part two!

In the meantime, what’s it gonna be?  Motörhead or Tom Jones?  Oh, go on, let’s have a bit of both…

Tom Jones: I Gotta Know (1964)

Motörhead: Live To Win (1980)

Saturday 4 June 2022

Connected and more

 Oh god, I had forgotten how good it could feel.  It’s been a while!

But last night, after a couple of years without any, the visceral and emotional pleasure of experiencing live music again felt even more special than I’d expected.  It was positively life-affirming.  And it was practically in my back garden!

Ah, what a lovely evening.  Against a clear blue sky the sun slowly descended into a horizon studded with ancient trees and an elegant church spire; on the other side of the gently sloping field the turrets of the stately home hosting the event glowed in vivid pink illumination.  It’s an absolutely beautiful setting for a tiny music festival and incredibly for me it’s only a two minute saunter from my front door (a crow could fly there in a few seconds).  I could hear the bands sound-checking through the kitchen window earlier.

But to be there, in amongst it – it’s that thing, isn’t it, of sharing the joy, the atmosphere, the whatever-it-is that live music gives you which is hard to describe – with your fellow human beings, hence my use of the term life-affirming.  With no pressure on us and a couple of tickets bought ages ago, my friend and I wandered down for our prescription of festival elixir just in time to catch the three bands we were most keen to see.  This being a very small, inexpensive event, it tends to host artists who’ve been around a while (or who’ve gone away and come back), you know the kind of thing.  But no prejudice on my part, I’ve been around a while too…

So, all power to Stereo MCs, Electric Six and Ash.  I loved them all.  And I got a strange kind of pride and sense of connection that they were playing in my home village and were so well received – it felt kinda personal.  It was perhaps especially heart-warming too that the festival could go ahead again and had quickly sold out, having been postponed for the last couple of years.  Plus there was no mention of that other thing that's apparently going on this weekend... what a delightful, hedonistic bubble.

All three bands completely delivered – Stereo MCs just made you want to dance and smile and celebrate, the sun warming your face, high on energy and life, timeless.   Electric Six were slightly, wonderfully mad, as you might expect –  especially eccentric frontman Dick Valentine with his introductions (“Song No. 1” , “Song No. 2”, etc.)   And Ash – well, I’ve loved Ash for a long time but had never seen them play – and here they were celebrating 30 years since their first rehearsal in June 1992 when they were 15 years old, and now on stage with a little entourage of young offspring at the side  – that alone is enough to make you smile isn’t it?  They were superb, tight as fuck, with a well-chosen setlist highlighting both characteristic pop melodies and those harder choppy guitars.   I have long wanted to hear Girl From Mars under the stars…   Ohh, at last.

So yeah, I had forgotten how good it could feel; what a difference it makes to your well-being to be entertained by proper talent and immersed in vibrant, live music with your fellow humans, not to take it for granted either.  I’m a little loved-up, to say the least.

Thursday 26 May 2022

This is the age of science and technology

Ask me about the reproductive cycle of the earthworm and I’m your woman; engage me in conversation about obscure 1960s British psychedelia and my eyes will light up.  But talk to me about technology and I want to run to the hills and hide in a treehouse where the only signals I can receive are from the birds and the butterflies… that’s ok, I speak their language.     The other stuff, the bytes and the apps and the nano SIMS, just aren’t my bag.

And it’s hard to be like this, don’t you think? It’s an easy, lazy excuse to say it’s just an age thing, as I don’t believe it is.  My dad, for instance, has always been very technologically minded; he keeps up-to-date and understands it all, no problem - he’s 93.  But I never have been, I’m just not wired that way.  My brain seems to effortlessly absorb facts about the mating rituals of snails and tells my hand how to draw (on paper) every day, but goes into panic mode when faced with questions about synching data and sharing app contents via NFC or whatever it is.   Is it so wrong to feel like that, is it so strange?  I feel quite out of step thanks to the way my mind works much of the time.  I can look out of a window for hours and not tire of it for one second, but with only a phone in front of me to scroll through I would be bored in no time.  I honestly don’t know how people manage it. 

As a result, I’m an avoider, and hence instead of doing things incrementally I’m now having to make (what feels like) a massive leap from a 9 year old phone which started playing up last week to something far more sophisticated than I deserve.   I got butterflies thinking about it, I could feel the stress levels rise, a sense of resistance – it’s ridiculous, I know.  There’s only one thing for it  - I must find a way to make it exciting…

To paraphrase Maya Angelou, "... if you can't change it, change your attitude".   I’m getting there.  It's shiny!  It’s a gorgeous, sumptuous shade of red! I mean, yes, it is aesthetically pleasing, I must admit.   And… it performs magic!  Ooh, plus I’ve bought a snappy leather case for it too.  Whoo hoo!  All I have to do (when my network upgrade finally gets activated…therein lies another tale)  is to switch it on.   And just hope that somehow, in some small way, it will switch me on too.

Here's 'Reality Poem', with its line that I borrowed for the title of this post, by Linton Kwesi Johnson, from the superb 'Forces of Victory' album which, quite shockingly, is now 43 years old.

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.

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