Tuesday, 19 September 2023

Chronically iconic

Three times in 36 seconds!

Quite a feat.  According to my recent evidence, Vernon Kay currently holds the record for this particular accomplishment.  Some might even call it an iconic achievement.  But please don't, as I may be tempted to scream...    I nearly screamed at the car radio when he did it too.  It was a couple of weeks or so ago when it actually happened, during his morning slot on Radio 2 (not my choice of station): Vernon Kay used the word 'iconic' three times in 36 seconds.  (I know, such a nerd, I timed it!)

In the short segment I heard he used it to describe Jeremy Vine as the "iconic broadcaster and journalist", a few seconds later he announced Cathy Dennis as "the iconic singer songwriter" and then, just as I was drawing breath ready to emit a shriek of despair at this lack of verbal originality (my "iconic" detector now on full alert), in the very next sentence we were treated to his description of Cathy's big hits as "iconic, anthemic tunes".   And who knows how many other times it may have turned up when I wasn't listening?

Of course, once you tune into it you find yourself playing 'Iconic Bingo'.  For example, in their current TV ad, Lynx invite you to "smell iconic".  Maybelline cosmetics want to sell you "iconic foundation".  Magazine articles tell you all about a city's "iconic eats".  A quick look through some recent song lyrics and I find lines such as, "lately I've been feeling iconic", "I'm living so iconic" and "iconic brings us together"...   Arghh!

Every artist, every book, every film, musician and landmark - they're all deemed "iconic" now.  Some of them surely are; I've no issue with that - the adjective was once brought out only to describe something really special, something rare perhaps, undeniably symbolic or memorable, thus it made its point perfectly, we knew what it meant and it had gravitas.  So I can't help but find it irritating and a little sad really when terms which were once used sparingly and pertinently like this lose their value - it all seems rather lazy, dull and predictable.  We've such a rich and evocative vocabulary, full of choice and nuance; words are such brilliant tools and (last time I looked, anyway) they're free!  Instead of "iconic", mightn't it be more interesting to hear a few other descriptions in the mix, such as totemic / eminent / acclaimed / unforgettable / renowned / seminal / emblematic / esteemed / famous (or infamous) / distinctive... etc.?

I know language evolves naturally, meanings change and always have done, but some grate more than others.   When the same word is used to describe both the Eiffel Tower and your local bakery's doughnut recipe, you know it's had its day.

(Just as I type this post, a promotional email has popped into my inbox from M&S entitled 'Meet our icons'.  Who/what are these icons?  A checked suit, a roll-neck sweater, loafers and a top-handle bag.)

Siouxsie & the Banshees: Icon

Thursday, 14 September 2023

Still here

Red kite

Hello, how are you?!  Several weeks have gone by and the cobwebs in the corners of this blog are gathering cobwebs of their own, but I'm still here...

A bout of Covid (my first) knocked me back last month, but the leaden-legged fatigue and peculiar effect on the tastebuds (I couldn't have distinguished between a rice pudding and a vegetable jalfrezi in a blind taste test) thankfully passed.  Now I'm "in-between" work projects and, aside from many overdue jobs to do around the house, it's a pleasure to take a breather and get immersed in nature outside for a while.  So, screen time isn't a big draw at the mo.

Ah, but outside is, I'm addicted.  By day I've been spotting the biggest, fattest garden spiders I've ever seen, and have been exhilarated by my first ever sighting of a live grass snake in the leaf litter.   I can hear the mewing of buzzards (we've never heard so many round here before) and watch the beautiful aerobatic displays of red kites over the rooftops and fields (still relatively new to these parts and they thrill me every time.  Did you know they have a wingspan of around 5ft?!)  By evening, it's the occasional, surprising close encounter with a bat as it flits with beating wings in somewhat manic fashion past the honeysuckle - and my head.  There's evidence of a hedgehog's wanderings too (those animal faeces recognition skills come in handy) and I can't help but have a fondness for Mrs Brown Rat as she lifts her nose, ears twitching independently, to sniff me from a safe distance (although had to stop feeding the birds for now in an effort to persuade her to move on).  Still, a chiffchaff skims the buddleiah, delaying its return to Africa while the weather's so warm here.  A stunning hornet (the native European species) wows me with its size and tiger colours, and the Red Admiral and Peacock butterflies bask on the kitchen window frame. With surprising speed, Cabbage White caterpillars rhythmically munch through toadflax (love that name) pausing only to drop off neat little parcels from their opposite ends... who knew you could even see a caterpillar take a crap?! - all part of the cycle...

I could watch, and listen, and smell all this for hours; it's my salve... I recommend it to everyone, even if only for a few minutes a day. Even if it's just what I used to do when I lived in a top floor flat looking out at the orbweb spiders in the corners of the windows and the magpies bouncing on the opposite rooftops.  Just get whatever you can.  I'd recommend it to Putin et al.  Honestly, mate, I'd like to say to him/them in my Utopian dream world, just sit back and watch the bees and the birds for a while and wonder at the simple pleasures of nature, how marvellous and precious it all is, how it deserves our protection, and you might just feel a little bit happier inside and appreciate the value of peace and harmony.  Oh, if only...

Bumming about in nature doesn't leave a lot of time or motive for blogging but I really don't want to lose the blogging either- it's very important to me too, the source of some lovely friendships and also something of a salve.   So I will be back!  Just maybe when I've finished watching that wasp drinking from the bird bath and the convoy of ants on a mysterious mission running along the path....  See you soon.

Wednesday, 9 August 2023

Lady go diva

Argh, I do love a crappy play on words and that title certainly is one of my worst.  But, anyway, it’s the best I can manage to describe what I did the other day which was not to ride nude through the streets of Coventry, but instead to go down to that lovely V&A Museum in London with a couple of friends and catch the latest exhibition: DIVA.

And it was quite an experience, my first of wearing a Bluetooth headset while wandering amid the exhibits, so you get the accompanying soundtrack to each encounter at your own pace.  (If it goes awry and you can hear Maria Callas while standing in front of a picture of Siouxsie Sioux “just turn your left ear towards the display you want and it'll correct itself,” the guide had advised.  It worked pretty well.)  It was like a gentle ride in a time machine – at one turn you can be watching and listening to Mae West on a screen where a scene from I’m No Angel plays out and then, as you walk between the cabinets and travel through the ages visually, your ears are filled with each relevant artist’s songs, from Nina Simone to Bjork, Debbie Harry to Lady GaGa, Shirley Bassey to Madonna, etc.

Debbie Harry's outfit from Blondie's European tour, 1979

Sade's ensemble from her Love Deluxe world tour, 1993

The word “diva”, originally derived from the Italian for a female deity, is very broadly interpreted at this show and it does include some whom many may not think fit that description - for example, a few young 'uns who haven't really reached legendary status, plus a handful of male “divas” are also represented (a fine pair of Prince’s bespoke high heeled boots in particular caught my eye, such small feet!)   And the label can have a pretty negative connotation too.  But when it comes to this exhibition, who cares really? - I decided not to be picky in this context!  It's a general theme, and the result is a celebration of flamboyant costume, creativity and the performing arts and with a sprinkling of politics thrown in too (feminism, racism, gender).  I found the whole thing informative and interesting, especially as there are posters, photos and illustrations plus a few other little artefacts alongside all the eye-catching garments and I just love seeing them all for real.

Prince's boots

A Dolly dolly!

Sade's hand-written lyrics for 'Immigrant', 2000

I was especially excited to see some incredibly imaginative ensembles from the more distant past, for example this astonishing two piece (and Health and Safety nightmare) worn by Josephine Baker, fantastic! 

Perhaps what struck me most about the oldest outfits on display, particularly those from early movies, was their exquisite, quality craftsmanship and intricacy.  They were beautifully preserved too.  Some of the more recent ones, whilst more extravagant and ostentatious, just didn’t compare and had an air of fancy dress party about them, to me anyway (but don’t tell anyone.  Elton would be highly insulted, I'm sure.).  And I found myself reflecting on the thought that, at the other end of the spectrum, an elaborate, delicately crafted dress worn by Clara Bow, for instance, would have really only been viewed by its cinema audience at the time in black and white, with no chance to pause, rewind, replay countless times at home, etc., and no intent to linger on its detailed splendour as we might now.  So I'm just happy that I had the chance to do a little time travelling, and to linger on them myself.

Here's some footage of Debbie in that outfit, performing Heart of Glass at the Glasgow Apollo, as part of the live set filmed by the BBC on New Year's Eve 1979.

Saturday, 22 July 2023

Oh shit

I never thought the time would come when I would be posting my excrement through a mailbox - but the other day that’s exactly what I did.  And I suspect a few of you have done so too…

The reason being (other than fantasising that the person at the receiving end could be Jacob Rees-Mogg) I had a certain milestone birthday earlier this month and thus a couple of days later received an extra little birthday present from our lovely NHS – so thoughtful of them!  You probably know where I’m going with this: it was the bowel cancer screening kit in its neat card envelope, a cute little sample tube, complete with clear, illustrated instructions.  (I would quite like to have been commissioned for that artwork – it’s not every day you’d get to draw a job like that  get a job to draw like that.)

Well, I think it’s brilliant that we have the opportunity here to do these tests for free and at our own convenience so I was quite strangely excited to have a go.  And this post is just about writing itself with all its double entendre...

Anyway, it does take a little bit of what you might call ‘forward planning’ but honestly it’s no hardship, and then when it's all done, dated and ready to despatch, you can say you’ve pushed your excrement through a mailbox too, and write a blog post about it.

All of this brings to mind a song I particularly loved when I was 15 and first heard as the B-side of a much treasured and brilliant Buzzcocks single, ‘What Do I Get’  I know it’s not about the actual, erm, ‘substance’ (are there any songs out there that are?!) but as a swear word ‘shit’ is pretty excellent.  My poor mum and dad just kept shtum when I insisted on playing it at full volume on the family stereogram.  They did the right thing, of course, making a fuss would have just given me cause to rebel against them but instead they accepted it all with good grace. In fact my mum probably secretly liked it; I'm pretty sure that 'shit' (along with 'bugger') was her favourite swear word - she didn't hold back - and it has become one of mine too; it's the perfect response to stepping barefoot on an upturned plug, or when a handle on your Tesco 'Bag For Life' gives way and deposits your Maris Pipers all over the pavement, or if you have to answer the door to the postman wearing a freshly applied exfoliating clay face pack.  We've all been there.

The lovely Susie Dent explains more about it here (I thoroughly recommend her videos on all our favourite profanities):

And of course the song.

Buzzcocks: Oh Shit

Sunday, 9 July 2023

Yorkie bar(s)

When you find yourself in a bar or restaurant talking about everything from the Southern Freeez, Bruce Springsteen and Shed 7 to the perils of snoring, the loudest gig you've ever been to, terrifying Public Information films from our childhood and how you file your music collection as well as the joys of mashed potato and the cut of David Bowie's trousers, you know you've fallen in with the right crowd...

And so it was that I recently found myself doing exactly that in the esteemed company of fellow bloggers Alyson, Charity Chic (and Mrs CC), John Medd  (and Mrs M) and The Swede - all of whom I'd had the great pleasure of seeing at our first "mini meet-up" in Edinburgh* a year ago, but this time we convened a little further South in York.  It's a city I'd never before visited and one I'd definitely like to return to as it was something of a whirlwind trip this time, but I'm just glad to have made it. It was actually bit of a test for me too; earlier in the year, hard as it seems to imagine now, I couldn't even envisage coping with staying away from home and the sensory overload of such an event, so I'm glad to say that although things are sapping my concentration a little, I've now reached the point where I can push past it enough of the time.  And I'm determined to keep doing so!  I know I wasn't alone in having some background concerns on this occasion either, and very much hope that the trip provided as much of an uplifting break for others too.

But anyway, back to the point, York was lovely and the company was even lovelier.  My memories are awash with (amongst much else) random snippets of the very small but perfectly formed Blue Bell pub, a certain blogger's delightfully dapper hat, a charming multi-tasking bus tour guide, the unexpected views onto houses from the Medieval walls and the most enormous Calzone you've ever seen in the most welcoming Italian restaurant you could go to - all mingled with smiles, seamless conversation, good food, drink and laughter.   As I've said before about blogging, it's a fantastic example of  how geographically distant strangers can form connections and have that sense of understanding and camaraderie, all just stemming from what we've expressed in our pages.  I haven't been very good at keeping up with that side of things lately but it hasn't seemed to have mattered, so here's a huge thank you to all.  I have indeed fallen in with the right crowd.

Perhaps in future, depending on whereabouts in the country we end up, others can swing by too?

Loved this font on a building viewed from a section of the city walls

and this gorgeous beetle art around the corner from the hotel

*minus Martin who unfortunately couldn't make it this year

Wednesday, 31 May 2023

I feel alive, I feel the love

 “Enjoy the rest of your day,” the young woman said cheerily as she put her belongings back in her little crossbody bag and walked, in a faintly zig zag pattern, away from our table on the parched grass.  She had the sweetest, warmest smile.

My friend and I had just been giggling with her, giggling in that helpless way like we did when we were kids.  We'd spotted her walking in our direction, catching our eyes as she provided us with an unintentionally comedic scene: she was taking two or three steps at a time, then pausing to bend forward, hunching over to root around in her bag, but each time she did so the plastic beaker of wine in her other hand tipped forward too, spilling it on the ground.   She’d straighten up, take a few more steps, then repeat the bend and the rummage, totally oblivious to yet more spillage.  And again – more steps, another fruitless fiddle about in the bag and, oops, there goes the wine ...and she still hadn't noticed.

Wordlessly we motioned to her to use the table where we were sitting and she gratefully emptied her bag onto it, treating us to a running commentary on its contents, punctuated by infectious laughter.  It’s hard to find a lipstick in a deceptively deep bag when you’re a little worse for wear.  Bless her, she found it eventually, after the phone and the sunglasses and tissues and the hairbrush and TicTacs and a blister pack of paracetamol…  after which we provided her with the services of a talking mirror (“Yep, that’s fine! No, it’s not all over your cheeks!”) while she applied it blindly, trusting us not to let her walk away looking like Robert Smith.  Well, I felt a little flutter of  love for this girl in that brief moment, for her sweetness and her laughter and her tipsy candour, I glimpsed a little of my young self in her too.  Or perhaps it was just that I was feeling very mellow and just glad to be alive in the laidback, loved-up way that being outdoors surrounded by the sound of guitars and the smell of doughnuts can inspire.  The sun was shining too, at last.

The small music festival on my doorstep had started that day and, honestly, it was a proper tonic just to go and soak it all up. I’m so lucky, I’m sitting in my garden now as I draft this post out on a scrap of paper the following afternoon, and I can hear it from here: the bass a constant, some vocals drifting in and out as the breeze carries them to me, probably not even half a mile as the crow flies, across the green, the graveyard and a few rooftops. But on Saturday, to be right there (in a field very familiar to me for being populated by sheep and jackdaws the rest of the time) and just to “do” the whole festival thing was still special.  And even though the artists we saw were not ones I would have chosen to see in other circumstances, they were perfect for this moment; I let go of any pre-conceptions completely and just enjoyed what was on offer.

It was especially good too to witness three headline acts all featuring more "mature" women; very heartwarming when you are one yourself.   So yes, Katrina Leskanich is 63, Carol Decker is 65 and Natalie Imbruglia is 48.  They were all in fine voice, classy and energetic, and looked fab - and I felt kind of proud to have them on my home turf too.  Katrina & The Waves performing 'Going Down To Liverpool' was a highlight.  What's that you say?  Why yes, of course they did 'Walking On Sunshine'!  And whilst I can't think of any T'Pau songs I would actively decide to listen to, Carol Decker had some great between-song banter and I couldn't fault their performance.  Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night for me was Natalie... I've never really given her any thought; 'Torn' was one of those ubiquitous songs of the late '90s and that was about all I could think of but, you know, she really rocked out at times and I was far more impressed than I could ever have imagined; I got a bit of a Bangles / Susanna Hoffs vibe.  Good on her, because she turned me around completely! 

I could only make it to the festival on the Saturday night, but late on Sunday night we did at least get to hear Shaun Ryder's unmistakeable lilt drifting over to our windows and down the chimney on the northerly breeze.   Black Grape were playing and I hope he was suitably sweary, it wouldn't be Shaun without a few expletives surely?  

I'll be thinking about that, plus the girl with the giggle and the spilt wine, next time I walk through that field with the sheep and the jackdaws. They will still be just as much of a tonic.  

Any festivals happening for you this Summer?

Friday, 19 May 2023

Checking into the Chelsea, fanzine style


Welcome to an experimental 'fanzine format'  blog post!

Inspired by some comments on the previous post, and also influenced by my much younger fanzine creating self, I took to paper, pen, Pritt Stick and scissors to make this one.  I can honestly say, I've really enjoyed working like this, away from the computer screen.  I can also honestly say, it took bloody ages.  Still, it was fun and the only other downside is that there's no chance to edit it now, but I'm a long-time fan of the DIY ethos and the charm of imperfection.  As for the silly amount of time it took, well, sometimes don't you just wish that everything did anyway, and then we could all slow down a bit?

I hope that wasn't too hard-going to read...

Here's the link to the documentary:

and that great clip of Nico performing 'Chelsea Girls':

Thursday, 11 May 2023

Screened out

 Argh - my hand aches.  I've been doing that thing I used to do a lot of when I was younger - you know, when you hold a plastic tube with ink in it and move it around to form alphabet letters in different combinations across a piece of paper: some actual, physical, manual, how-we-used-to-do-it-in-the-olden-dayes writing.

I started, but haven't yet finished, hand-writing a new blog post but before I go back to that one I wanted to precede it with an explanation (also hand-written and to be transposed to what you see here).  I haven't posted on here for ages and feel I've been regretfully neglectful towards my lovely fellow bloggers too - I'm so sorry! Thing is, I've developed a bit of a problem with spending much time in front of my computer screen; I'm sure this must be due to the round-the-clock tinnitus and unfortunately it's just my brain's way of coping for now.  Reading and writing at any length on screen has become extra tiring and I'm finding it hard to concentrate comfortably, and then that effect has placed a kind of psychological barrier in the way too - sort of associating computer time with having that feeling and thus just wanting to be far away from it...  

Hopefully this will pass as it's still early days but in the meantime I decided to embrace the analogue instead.  And how good it is!  I always knew I was an analogue girl but when I'm immersed in all the things I already enjoy - like drawing, walking, reading a (physical) book and putting my hands in the worm bin (that's a bit niche, I know) I barely notice the noise either.  In fact, drawing is amazingly therapeutic and I'm sure there are some credible scientific reasons behind this to do with the parts of the brain that it engages and exercies - a subject I'd love to read up on more, apart from the fact that I'd probably have to do most of that online.

Anyway, after scribbling these words on paper and just typing up quickly here my brain feels so much less cluttered and fatigued in the process.  I think I'll try this method for a while to see where it goes - hopefully it will help me to revive this blog a little but, if all else fails - well, can I post you a letter?!

Saturday, 1 April 2023

Just like a dream

 I had such a lovely dream last night I hope you won't mind if I share it here.  Because it featured Robert Smith*!

Before you ask – no, it wasn’t that kind of dream.  But it was incredibly feelgood, and there is nothing quite like waking up after having a particularly pleasant dream, instead of either just a nonsense one, or worse - an unsettling or frightening one.  The emotions we feel in our more vivid reveries often seem to linger on the following day, just like an actual experience would and again, much like in real life, there’s great pleasure to be had in actively revisiting the good ones in our minds to keep those feelings alive.

So, in the dream, Robert Smith was a lovely old pal from my college days.  And I was back at some art school, within a big campus area, walking about in the sunshine waiting to meet up with some mates and go to a gig, when this (young) Robert appeared out of the blue.  He just put his arm around my shoulder as he fell into step with me and a warm, easy, lovely conversation ensued throughout the rest of this sweet unconscious flight of fancy as we wandered around together on a soft Summery day.  There was music as well – meeting up with the DJ who was going to do the set before the gig and who played us a few previews of his record choices, all of which were completely imagined and yet I heard them vividly, as real songs.  I wish I could recall the tunes, they were good; I remember lots of fuzzy guitars and a lively bass.  Do you ever dream up music in your sleep too?  If only we could record it!

“I’m definitely going to treat myself to Three Imaginary Boys”, I announced as I remembered the dream this morning (and then giggled at the ambiguity of what I'd just said…)     But it was just that I had bought and loved TIB soon after it was released many years ago and, somehow, like many other albums I’d owned in my teens, it had been replaced by something else I’d subsequently decided I’d listen to more.   Now I have a hanker to own it again and to keep it forever this time.  I find myself doing this more and more with the music I loved so much in my formative years but later let go.  As has often been said I’m sure, it goes much deeper than just the music - it’s about the feel of the time, the associations, youthful memories, identity, growing up… so much more, all of this wrapped up in 12” of vinyl and some idiosyncratic cover art.   

Anyway, thanks Robert, for inadvertently turning up in my head last night and being one imaginary boy in that dream.  It really was lovely to see you!

The Cure: 10.15 Saturday Night

 *I know why he featured – we’d been watching a repeat of ToTP in the evening on which he was playing keyboards with Siouxsie & the Banshees for ‘Swimming Horses’ (excellent to see again).  Plus just a few days beforehand Martin had posted the perennially charming Love Cats on his excellent blog…

Sunday, 26 March 2023

The sparrows in my head and a jugular bulb

I hope you won't mind the medical nature of this post, but if you've ever had a CT scan you'll perhaps agree that it really does seem like something straight out of a sci-fi movie.  The idea of being fed through a machine as red laser lines make intangible marks across you, and having your veins injected with 'dye' so that someone else can see the inside workings of your head, your blood vessels, even your brain, is (no pun intended) pretty mind-blowing.  And for us patients in the UK it's all for free.  Thank you, wonderful NHS.

I couldn't help wondering beforehand what else might show up inside my head, though - a mouse's nest?  A boxful of dreams?  All the things I've ever lost perhaps (that hoover nozzle we were looking for the other day?  My book on 1970s interiors that mysteriously went missing in 1995?)  But, I'm glad to say, the thing they did find was the thing they were looking for - the answer to the question I've had going round inside there for the last three months: what's causing me to hear that 'flock of sparrows' that I wrote about here, cheeping away every second of the day...? 

I'm so relieved to say it's not a tumour, or a narrowed artery, or a build-up of pressure around the brain, all of which can cause this Pulsatile Tinnitus.  I've had two ECGs as well, and full blood tests, and things poked inside my ears and up my nose, plus a hearing test, and they all turned out ok, so it's felt like a long three months.  But I found out last week, thanks to the result of the CT scan, that I do have an anomaly, which is an 'enlarged jugular bulb' (this, as a very lovely friend suggested, really should be the title of a track by Peter Hammill or the like, shouldn't it?  I can hear it now, a noodly instrumental perhaps.)

After a lot of wondering, worrying and some dark nights (and days) of the soul, it's such a relief to have a diagnosis at last.  For anyone who's interested in our incredible anatomy, as I understand it the jugular bulb is something we all develop at around 2 years old, a pouchy part of your jugular vein, at its top, where it bends round and forms a kind of junction with a sinus vein.  My 'bulb' is now pressing against or protruding slightly into the inner workings of my ear and so it's like putting a loudhailer up to your jugular.... which perfectly explains why I can hear my blood flow pulsing past all the time (and seemingly a few other noises from inside my skull too - it's a busy place!)

I do wish I could get rid of the incessant noise but, unless things get very extreme or there are any physical developments requiring intervention, I have to learn to live with it.  Habituation is the key - training your brain not to tune in, to ignore it - apparently the more attention we give something the more our brains automatically log its perceived importance (this particularly applies to anxiety too).  So I must keeping working at it, and the lovely ENT consultant is going to monitor things regularly too; I go back for a follow-up in June.

In the meantime, music and art and other happy distractions are, as ever, therapeutic, and I'm so grateful I don't have to do a job which requires me to sit in front of a computer screen all day as that has definitely become a bit more tiring and uncomfortable for some reason.  In fact my circumstances couldn't be better really, I draw and paint for a living (I've also reduced my hours a little) and I do it with music playing or the radio on, and birdsong outside my window.  The cheeping of real sparrows is fine; Spring is, well, promising anyway, to turn up soon and at least the heartbeat in my head keeps confirming I'm alive!

Let's have some more Buzzcocks... they do seem to have cornered the market in tinnitus-related themes...

Thursday, 16 March 2023

Pipe dreams

 "I wasn't picking up cigarette butts..." says Andy, in a scene from Series 2 of the ever wonderful 'Detectorists', as he bumps into Dr Tendai, who, shortly beforehand, had interviewed him for an archaeology job in Botswana.  "Clay pipes," he continues, "I saw some bits of clay pipe in the flowerbed..." He holds out his palm to show the chalky white pipe fragments.  "Broken bits of pipe that people used to smoke."

They do look like cigarette butts, but I've found myself just as acutely aware of their existence as Andy is, any time I'm pottering around in my garden.  Only yesterday I wasn't even digging or anything, I just glanced downwards briefly to where the snowdrops have emerged and a piece of clay pipe was just lying there, looking up at me.  Well, not exactly looking up at me, but you know what I mean.  Not buried, not even dirty.  Just lying there in the open, above the soil, as if it had been strategically placed there by someone five minutes beforehand for me to spot.  Who is that phantom pipe layer?!

These are some of the pipe fragments I've found in the same circumstances, all of them in this small, humble garden, all of them brought to the surface naturally - by worms, birds, moles, voles, Wombles, who knows what, but they just appear now and then, unsearched for - and I love it.  

They may only be tiny remnants of the existence of ordinary men in buckskin breeches with tobacco-stained moustaches but they'll do for me - little time travelling morsels from long-gone lives.  I totally get why Andy holds onto them and keeps them in a glass jar - I do the same.

Back to the scene in 'Detectorists'.  "How old are they?" asks Dr Tendai.  "These ones are Victorian.." Andy points to the thinner fragments, "but that one's early 18th, maybe late 17th Century."  "How can you tell?"  Dr Tendai's curiousity is clearly piqued now.  "Older ones are thicker and they had a much smaller bowl because tobacco was so expensive..."

Thick and thin together

I haven't found any sections with the bowl intact yet but now I know, from Andy's explanation and yesterday's find, that I had in my hand a little piece of (thicker) pipe which must once have been puffed on by someone around 400 years ago.  Here's another fragment with some relief decoration at one end still showing too.

I can't help it, I just love how something so small and simple can resurface after hundreds of years and make me feel that myserious connection the way it does.  I hope I'll keep finding cigarette butts bits of clay pipe in my flowerbeds.


I was wondering about some music to accompany this post too.  Well, I could have given you Crackdust, the Botswanian death metal band mentioned by Andy and Lance in this episode - honestly, they're real - but how about an unexpectedly stompy glam version of the Nashville Teens' 'Tobacco Road' instead?  

Albatross: Tobacco Road, 1975

(Although, if you're still curious about Crackdust...)

Crackdust: Mortal Decay

Sunday, 26 February 2023

Reverting to type

Ah, the typewriter!  Like the Mouli Grater and the accordion, the typewriter is one of those random modern day objects whose combination of aesthetic and purpose just gives me a warm, tingly feeling.  I love the way it looks and sounds, I love its symbolism; it’s imbued with personal memories too.  It came to mind the other day when I stumbled across some wonderful old typewriter adverts from Olivetti – but more on those later.

While we're at it, though, feast your eyes on a Mouli Grater and an accordion...


But back to the typewriter.  My mum had a lovely manual one (I think it may have been a Hermes, or was it an Olympia?) from as far back as I can remember.
  It had a hard, grey, curved carrying case, and all the usual features that give this relatively simple machine such character.  The little bell that warns you when you’re getting close to the right hand edge of your page, the long carriage return lever with its smooth, satisfying action, and those marvellous typebars hammering their characters onto the paper like multiple, cascading fingers.

I got to know that typewriter well as a child, not just through the clicking and clacking and tinging of my mum’s activities (she used to offer home typing services to students and academics) but from my own endeavours at making story books.   Learning to replace the ribbon tape properly seemed so sophisticated, and I particularly liked the fancy double one which had both black and red ink options.  Unlike my mum, who magically knew where everything was without looking, I ‘hunted and pecked’ at the letters, my little fingers not always having the strength needed to imprint them hard enough.  Or I’d accidentally press a couple of the keys at the same time, tangling the long typebars at the centre of it all, which I’d then have to delicately prise apart.

I had to learn to touch-type the proper way years later, in the ‘80s, after I applied for a job only to find out at the interview stage that a pending offer depended on that particular ability.  I didn’t even own a typewriter but I really wanted the job so I borrowed one – by this time at least a less clunky electric one – coupled with a Pitman’s Teach Yourself Typing book, set it up on the little table in the kitchen of our rather shabby rented flat and set about learning the magical craft of using all the fingers on both hands correctly.  It’s remarkable really, isn’t it, how your brain develops this automatic ‘muscle memory’, yet if you were to ask me to consciously tell you the full keyboard layout I’d struggle.  Anyway, I managed it, I passed a 40wpm typing test and got the job, and the ability to touch-type at speed has never left me.

 Of course we had no idea that just about everyone, regardless of typing skills or lessons, was going to be using a keyboard pretty frequently in the coming years.  How do you type?  Do you have to look at the letters or have you developed your own perfectly good muscle memory technique without using all your fingers?  And did you ever choose to tap away at a typewriter for a fanzine or other pursuit, long before the days of keyboards and screens?

There’s a part of me that would still quite like to own a vintage manual machine.  I want to hear that bell again and slowly wind the paper onto the platen, then see a few imperfections in the results, a slightly wonky line or a tippexed-over mistake.  And of course that familiar font!  But using it regularly would probably frustrate the hell out of me, never mind bruise my fingers, and it would no doubt end up dusty and neglected in a cupboard - alongside a Mouli grater and an accordion.

Anyway, here are some of those gorgeous graphic adverts for the typewriter by Olivetti, from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.


Then there's this great album cover graphic too:

Billy Bragg: William Bloke

Some random facts about the typewriter:

The original version of a machine that impressed letters onto paper was created in 1575 by an Italian printmaker, Francesco Rampazetto.  But the first to be officially known as a ‘typewriter’ was patented in 1868 by American inventor Christopher Latham Sholes.  By 1873 he had produced 50 of these machines but was unable to sell them; it was only when the gun manufacturer, Remington, bought the rights in 1874 that it started to take off.  The first author to submit a typed manuscript to a publisher was Mark Twain. And the longest word that can be typed using left hand letters only is 'stewardesses' (you never know when that'll come in handy).

Sunday, 29 January 2023

Random access memory - revisited


Reposted in tribute to Tom Verlaine 3/12/49 - 28/1/23

I heard a song the other day - I can't even remember what or where and it was barely in my consciousness - but there was a staccato guitar in it and it prompted a thought.  A fleeting one - one of those that drifts in vaguely and out again quickly, like a faint wisp of smoke.  "That sounds a bit like Marquee Moon" went the thought, and promptly disappeared.

But it came back and this time it brought along a random memory - of late Summer 1977, the weather a bit like now, when I had just turned fourteen.  I was venturing - half of me tentatively, and the other half of me very brazenly -  into a lot of new experiences,  most of which revolved around boys and punk.  I'd only bought one proper grown-up album so far and was saving my pocket money for more 12" vinyl.  What were they, about £2.49, something like that?  I couldn't just go out and buy one, it had to be planned. So the cheapo singles bin in Martins was always worth a look in case I could pick up something for 10p, something I didn't have to scrimp for nor plan, but something I could actually take home the same day and play.

A lot of band names were becoming familiar;  I was latching on to what I thought 'fitted' the punk scene, but often without having first heard the music.  I mean, bands like The Cortinas had the honour of getting their name carefully written on my school science overall in permanent black pen alongside the more obvious ones like Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols et al, even though I hadn't yet heard one track by them (the Cortinas, that is) .  I got it wrong sometimes... like, I thought Dead Fingers Talk must be young, new and very raw just on the name alone... wrote that name on my school satchel too... they weren't, though, were they?  And it was the same with Television.  It was a name which was linked to all this new stuff I was exploring with limited means of doing so, and I imagined that they must be making songs at least as aggressive as White Riot or snarly as Pretty Vacant, whoever/whatever they were.  So when I flicked through the cheapo singles bin in Martins and saw the 7" of 'Marquee Moon', I was quick to hand over my 10p and dead excited at the prospect of hearing it.

I remember walkng home with it feeling really chuffed.  I had to go past the petrol station which was usually a bit nerve-wracking because there were always some young guys working there and I didn't know quite how to strike that balance between feeling horribly shy and yet also wanting their attention.  Just having to walk past was a big deal.  Funny how you remember these odd details but I recall very vividly that this time there was a new petrol attendant there, a tall bloke with acne.  He smiled at me.  Actually he stared.  I think I got more of a look than I really wanted.  I didn't fancy him at all... but I sort of wanted him to fancy me... I smiled back.  Then I immediately regretted it, in case I was giving him the come-on, which I didn't really want to even though my heart was beating fast and oh now I'd never be able to walk past that garage again.  It would make it really difficult going into town because that was the main route,  I'd have to take that funny detour down the other side of the hill.... oh what was I thinking.....   Ha, they were confusing times, those early teens.

Anyway, I got home, unwrapped my new purchase and put it on the turntable on the family stereogram.  I was so excited.. hopeful for some thrashing chords, some fierce drumming, hadn't a clue what a song called Marquee Moon might be about, but I'd heard of The Marquee...

Erm, it wasn't what I expected at all.  It was weird.  And the B-side was more of the same!

So, I had to work really hard to convince myself that I could, perhaps, sort of, like it.  Or I could at least grow to like it... one day... maybe.  I played it again.  My sister came downstairs and said she thought it sounded a bit like Yes.  I didn't know what Yes were like but that didn't seem to me to be a good thing.

Well, I kept the single anyway, in my little cardboard box and it stayed there.  I did grow to really like it in the end, although I have to admit, it took time.  And even now I can't be sure, I wonder if I like it especially because I just can't separate it from that time, that feeling, that age and stage in life, the mood it evokes... the memories.  These things are so inextricably linked.

I also got brave and walked past the petrol station again, continuing my ambivalent flirtation with a boy I didn't fancy one bit.  I never grew to like him, although even then there was this naive teenage thought process which went along similar lines to my feelings about the record... like, maybe I would if I really tried... should I just keep playing him again in case....?!

Update 29/1/23... I've appreciated more and more in the interim years just how unique, good and influential Tom Verlaine and Television were.  RIP Tom.

Friday, 13 January 2023

Moving away from the pulsebeat

I’m so sorry that I haven’t been very present on the blogs lately.  2023 hasn’t started out as well as I had hoped as I’ve not been quite right for a little while; I appear to have a flock of sparrows cheeping away inside my head.  (This should surely inspire a surreal piece of artwork some day, I can picture it now…)  They’ve been there for at least a couple of weeks – cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep, incessantly throughout all my conscious hours, and waking me up particularly loudly at dawn, but at least they cheep very neatly in time with my heartbeat.  Normally I love the sound of sparrows, but this – nah.

Anyway, it’s under investigation now and hopefully all will be resolved soon.  I’m carrying on as normal but it’s just making life a bit more tiring and I have to work quite hard not to get down and anxious about it too.  It’s always the way, isn’t it, when you worry of course it just risks making things worse - I should probably switch to a life of hedonism and start drinking and taking drugs but, well, the expense…    Anyway, anything that distracts from and drowns out this pulsing sound is fantastic; I recommend standing by the washing machine on spin cycle but, of course, music is the best thing.

So I couldn’t help thinking of a favourite track from one of the first albums I purchased with my pocket money.  I was going to put some words together about it now but then I remembered that some years ago I’d mentioned it in another post and what I wrote then still just sums it up for me:

The outer sleeve of the fourth (or was it fifth?) album I ever bought was the thickest and stiffest I'd seen.  The card was really sort of heavy, and had a wider than normal spine.  There was a particular texture to it that made it feel different too; perhaps because of its matt silver finish.

I bought it some time in 1978, can't recall exactly when, but I remember playing it a lot and for some reason I have a specific memory of putting it on just before heading out to a party. I was kneeling in front of our ancient portable electric heater, a cumbersome thing, which fizzed and popped and clicked in a rather ominous way while emitting an intense heat the smell of burnt dust, but it was the best way to dry my hair. I simply knelt in front of it with my head bent forward so that my hair hung upside down and then when I looked up again, it had dried at right angles to my scalp. A light application of egg-white then set it into spikes.  I was doing all this while listening to the two-minute genius of Love Battery and I Don't Mind, etc.

I loved every track on that silver-sleeved album, but Moving Away From The Pulsebeat was probably the biggest surprise to me on first hearing and seemed like a grand finale.

 Buzzcocks: Moving Away From The Pulsebeat from 'Another Music In A Different Kitchen'

Hope to be in more normal mode soon!

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