Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Asperger's and Chris

I've just caught up with an excellent TV programme which, for reasons I can't really articulate, made me strangely tearful at times.  I was moved - moved by the nuances, moved by one or two things I felt in common, moved by the honesty, moved by the love of nature, by attitudes towards mental health and why we should value our individuality.  Just moved.  The programme was Chris Packham: Asperger's and Me.

You may already know from things I've mentioned before here that I feel great affinity and admiration for Chris Packham.  It's for many reasons - his deep love of nature is at the fore, but also his sense of outsiderness, his admission of social anxiety, and of course his musical and sartorial tastes.

I think a lot of us have a sort of autistic streak to one degree or another.  Not enough to affect our ability to function normally but perhaps enough to make some aspects of life trickier than we envisage it being for our peers.  Maybe just the merest hint of it, maybe not even something noticeable to anyone else, but the horrible feeling you get deep inside when you don't want to go to that party, or that wedding, or that work do, or whatever it is where everyone expects things to be a certain way and that way just isn't you.  When you feel in the minority - or maybe completely alone - for whatever reason, be it your interests, or your level of enthusiasm for something, or your lack of  enthusiasm for something else.  Where you don't feel you can fit in, because everyone else seems to do so with ease and so you must be the odd one out.  When you have to adapt the way you express yourself, when you tone down your inner voice that wants to rave about its weird passions that nobody else seems to get.  I think here, in this corner, it's a safe place.  But in the wider world it's sometimes hard to navigate.  Sometimes you have to fake normality.  Is that some kind of autism, being a bit unusual?  I don't know.  But I know that a lot of what Chris spoke about in his programme was absolutely relatable.

I'm pretty sure my dad would be diagnosed as having Asperger's if he were to undergo analysis.  An incredibly brainy, mathematical, logical man, he has no idea how to behave socially, how to dress or present himself conventionally, how to even be a 'true' father to my sister and me.  He's awkward, disconnected.  I see him in myself at times and I have to work at it.  I forgive him his inability to communicate normally with his own offspring.  It's just the way he is, and it doesn't make him bad.

My mum - very sociable and gregarious - was affected by mental health issues (clinical depression) and what with my dad... well, perhaps that's why I was precocious and difficult for a few years, maybe it's in that odd combination of genes!  I was happy to spend hours, days, on my own in my bedroom drawing, writing, reading.  My head was nearly always in a book - or making books of my own.  Or crouching outside on the step watching ants, studying woodlice, feeding lettuce to snails.  Hating new clothes, hating change.  Refusing to eat the baked beans that fell off the toast. Keeping a collection of butterfly cocoons in a plastic box.  Having to get back to my bedroom before the toilet flush stopped making a noise for fear of something bad happening if I didn't.  Daydreaming far too much.  It all kind of broke when I became a teenager. And then punk spoke to me, music and style and gigs and kindred spirits gave me an outlet.  It's okay to be a bit weird - embrace it.  You can be creative with clothes!  You can be creative, full stop.

Punk spoke to Chris Packham as a teenager too - it's easy to see why.



I really recommend watching it, if not already.  Here's the iPlayer link:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b09b1zbb/chris-packham-aspergers-and-me

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Fifty-twee



 “More parsnips than I know what to do with!” laughed the man as he showed off his basket of home-grown vegetables.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, except….  

Except….

EXCEPT…

… “It’s all so twee!” I found myself saying.

Honestly, I think I said it out loud on my own in the room. The reason being the man with his too many parsnips was in a TV advert for over 50s life insurance and that meant it was aimed at....(braces self)....me.  And maybe you too, either you now or the person you’ll be in just a few years’ time. 

I should add, it wasn't really the parsnips.  It was everything.  It was these advertisers' convenient vision of the over-50s – all pelmets and trugs and an oh-so-gentle sense of humour.   All tweed, velcro and lacy doilies. I felt so patronised!  I can’t bear being patronised and, oh god, I know it’s only going to get worse.  Fuck it. 

I’ve nothing against growing parsnips, just so you know.  You’re very welcome to show me your parsnips or any other homegrown root vegetables for that matter.  In a trug.  And I know all ads for any demographic are horribly generalised and broad, whether you're a teenager or a woman or a cat-lover or whatever, but it seems that the stereotypes for ‘older’ people simply haven’t been adjusted in decades.  They're more like a vision from the '50s than a vision of our 50s.  It’s as if once you pass 49 you instantly become some sort of sub-species, inoffensive and chintzy and dressed only in beige.  

These are not people like my peers and me - people who still go to gigs, or who like wearing pointy shoes, or who still have their old Joy Division albums in a dusty box in a room with an Andy Warhol poster on the wall, etc.  Insert your own version here.

(Note to advertiser: those parsnips can be inserted elsewhere.)

Monday, 9 October 2017

Where the wild things are

There, under a large pot I moved this morning, was a beautiful, tiny newt. 

The woodlouse on the far upper right gives
some idea of scale

That’s why I leave this place a little wild.  Sometimes part of me feels a bit ashamed of my garden, because I know it doesn’t conform, it's not beautiful or tidy or planned, but then I have to remind myself:  it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. 

I leave this little outdoor space pretty much to its own devices, with the minimum of maintenance, and I know that it looks like I can’t be bothered.  But I just don’t want to bother all the wonderful things in it that are doing very well without me.   I don’t want to bother – as in trouble, or disturb - the perfect cycle of nature, the happy micro-world within its boundaries. 

For me the rewards are all I could ever wish for.  Like that beautiful newt, an unexpected find, the first I’ve ever seen here.   And like the hedgehogs that visit every night.  The things they leave behind – nearly always in the same place – are the next morning’s confirmation of their fruitful foraging and, I know it sounds bizarre to get a buzz from seeing hedgehog shit, but I really do get pleasure from that proof.  Like this one, so conveniently left for me directly on a leaf!

(I promise I won't make a habit of 
sharing my animal droppings)

It’s true, I spend a good ten minutes every morning searching for and then burying numerous little hedgehog turds.

Last year, the evidence of one sleeping under piles of twigs and cuttings beneath the hedge was the sound of it snoring.  Actually, a bit more than snoring; it was also emitting a noise that I can only describe as being like a Smurf with a smoker’s cough.  A hedgehog with a cough isn’t a good sign, meaning it may have lung-worm, but this one seemed to be doing okay.  Then one day in late Summer I heard something else  – some squeaking and snuffling and… a kind of suckling sound. Hearing this every day for a week or so, it dawned on me that she may have had babies…

…She had.

One of last year's hoglets

I can’t tell you how ridiculously happy it makes me to think a hedgehog chose to give birth and wean her young here.

Unplanned flowers and herbs proliferate too.  Lemon balm and feverfew grow of their own accord, wherever they like, along with pink and purple toadflax.  Forget-me-nots grow in the cracks in the ancient paving. Strong-smelling calamint blooms long into the Autumn, self-seeding on the path, where I leave it to brush against my ankles amid honeybees and butterflies.  Nettles are great in so many ways - I leave a good patch of nettles, and at this time of year so many of their leaves have been neatly folded up by caterpillars, sealing themselves inside with silk threads.  A bramble bush compensates for its outrageously sharp thorns with its long season of luscious blackberries. Vast mats of clover creep over the old concrete patio, plumptious woodpigeons peck at its leaves, bumble bees are drawn drunkenly to its heady scented flowers.  Ivy shelters gorgeous, huge garden snails and secretive wolf spiders.  Buddleia and honeysuckle do their own thing,the knock-on effect of their nectar’s attractiveness to small insects bringing in low-flying bats and swallows at dusk to scoop them up.

Dandelions in Spring are as pretty and bright as any cultivated plant, so why not leave them? Goldfinches which, like great spotted woodpeckers, look far too exotic to be British birds, cling to their long stalks bending slowly under their minimal weight, and pull at the flowers methodically, filling their beaks with the delicate seed heads, then depart with a tinkling chirrup, as if to say “Thanks!”

There are bank voles, woodmice, shrews.  A stoat appeared one day, as did a slinky little weasel looking for prey.  Grasshoppers and crickets....a frog under the shed... exotic-looking beetles with bodies that shimmer like jewels prompt me to read up about their species, get educated.  Somewhere below the surface a mole has been digging, I'm stupidly excited at the thought of this mysterious underground visitor.  There's no neat lawn to disrupt, so it doesn't matter. Blackbirds and dunnock chicks hatch in their nests, secure in the overgrown hedges where the sparrows roost en masse at night, treating us to a late afternoon chorus of quite unbelievable volume.  What are they chatting about?! 

Everything’s a mess and everything’s alive.   I wouldn't want it any other way.


Monday, 2 October 2017

A bloody mess

Sorry it’s been a good few weeks since I’ve posted anything; no particular reason, just one of those phases when I’m not “feeling it” when it comes to writing - another temporary block perhaps.  And life, of course, puts other things in front of us, not that any of mine have been very interesting lately.

Today was a little out of the ordinary,  though!  I expected to be spending it drawing dragons for a new book, and if that sounds like a lovely way to spend time, I can confirm that indeed it is.  I love drawing and I love dragons.  I didn’t expect instead for Mr SDS to come home very early with blood all over his face.

Apart from numerous cuts and a swelling under his eye which looks like someone’s slashed it open and stuck an avocado stone under it, he’s okay - nothing got broken and he didn’t pass out after he smacked the gravel full pelt when he tripped and fell directly onto his cheek.   My dragons went on the backburner (probably quite appropriately) and I took Mr SDS to A&E.  His face was a bloody mess.

The NHS is wonderful.  I can't bear the thought that we could ever lose it; I’d happily pay more in NI, tax or whatever was needed to help keep it. And of all the things that could warrant a trip to A&E, something everyone surely dreads, it really wasn’t so bad.

Waiting in there for three and a half hours wasn’t so bad either, if you can find your own amusement.  It seems we were in stellar company, for among the names being called out there was a Tony Curtis, a James Dean and an Alesha Dixon.  What are the chances?  Of course none of them looked like their namesakes but I couldn’t help imagining what it would be like to be in some kind of surreal Celebrity A&E Waiting Room.

 “I’ll have to mention this in a blog post,” I said.  And so....... !

Take care, everyone.


Saturday, 9 September 2017

Nightboat to Northants

I’ve just been granted exclusive permission to publish a photo of someone whose name has appeared here several times over the years...


...Mr SDS. 

Here he is in 1981.  A bloke in creepers and a 'We Are All Prostitutes' T-shirt sitting on a folding chair by a river may not be as extreme as teenage goths grimacing on the beach in those ‘Embarrassing Family Photos’ websites, but still I love the way it looks a little out of place. I snapped him squinting in the Summer sun as the morning light bounced off his fluorescent pink socks, androgynous post-punk hair blowing in the breeze against a pastoral backdrop in the middle of nowhere.  (The middle of Northamptonshire, as it happens.)

That’s how it was, though, wasn’t it?  Holidays, weddings, funerals, etc. were difficult when it came to dressing ‘appropriately’.  We wanted to wear what we always wore and (of course) what we wanted to be seen in.  Which was at least appropriate to who we were and what we were into, as deck shoes and shorts had never been in our wardrobes.

A slightly better view of that T-shirt

The Pop Group: We Are All Prostitutes

I took that photo the first time we went away together.  We didn’t have much money, still lived at home with respective parents, but for a nominal donation we were able to borrow a little narrowboat for a couple of days from my mum's friend.  It was moored at a campsite in a place we’d never heard of called Thrapston.

The saffron yellow, bone-rattling, ex-Post Office Viva van got us there somehow.  Mr SDS had only just passed his driving test and I couldn't drive at all; I tried to read the map the right way up while he did his best not to show his inner panic.  We made it unscathed through Bedford anyway, which was quite a triumph.

Smells make memories, don’t they?  And if I ever smell that disctinctive whiff of paraffin now I find myself right back on that boat, sitting on the foam-cushioned bench seats (which disappointingly only converted into single beds with several feet between them) eating Heinz Sandwich Spread on Crackerbreads.   Weird, but I really remember that detail.  Sandwich Spread may have the colour, taste and consistency of sick, yet in 1981 eating food not bought by our parents in unfamiliar waterborne surroundings with my boyfriend was so exciting that I managed to keep it down.

More exciting, though, was just listening to the radio there. We heard a lot of chart singles such as  Kim Wilde 'Water On Glass', The Specials 'Ghost Town' and Tenpole Tudor 'Wunderbar'... they are the sound of that place to me still, the sonic equivalent to the smell of paraffin.

Let me take you back to a 1981 Top Of The Pops for a moment as a reminder:

I really liked Kim's boyish image

Then we listened to Richard Skinner’s evening show which usually featured a band in session.  That night will forever be associated with Soft Cell:

Soft Cell in session, Summer 1981

I remember thinking the last song 'Youth' was really something.

'Don't hide the photos
Or turn off the lights
I'm quite sure we've both seen
Funnier sights'

(People used to think Mr SDS looked a bit like Marc Almond; he was once offered a freebie jar of Dippity-Do hair gel by an older stall holder at Camden Market on the strength of it.)

It was when we wanted to go to bed that the spiders appeared.  Dozens of them. Every corner, every crevice, the low lamplight casting monstrous 8-legged shadows against the wooden panels.  Big fat juicy ones and long-legged spindly ones, stripey ones, ones with bodies that looked like baked beans and hairy varieties too.   It seemed to take forever to carefully flick each one out the window with a Queen's Silver Jubilee themed tea towel.  Thanks to that I conquered my fear of spiders, so much so that long-time readers will know I now actively love them.  But that doesn’t mean I ever want to sleep with them.

You must've heard the apocryphal tale that goes round schools about the couple who get lost on a nighttime drive in the wilderness?  – where the boyfriend gets out to seek help and later the lone girlfriend hears banging on the car roof, which to her horror turns out to be his decapitated head in the hands of an axe murderer.   It came to mind when I was awoken in the early hours that first morning by the mysterious, repetitive knocking on the narrowboat roof.  It sounded very close, very persistent.  Luckily Mr SDS’ head was still intact on the starboard bunk.

What was that noise? 

We’ll never know.

Probably ducks.


Later we wandered out of the campsite and into a time-warp: a grocery store in town, where a plump, rosy-cheeked lady sold us a bottle of Dandelion & Burdock. She was so friendly; I like to think she approved of Siouxsie’s lifesize face staring out from Mr SDS’ chest and my sleeveless Lurex top sparkling in the dusty rays of sunlight.

Strolling back to our moorings, every wooden gate we passed – and there were quite a few - came with a bony old man in a tweed cap attached to it.  Maybe it was the same man, skipping ahead unseen behind the hedges while we dawdled, just to mess with our townie minds.

It's funny how I remember all these odd snippets.  I can never see a man leaning on a gate now without thinking of everything I've described above. 

Did we untie the mooring lines when we got back, fire up the boat's engine and go chugging up the Grand Union Canal with our new-found freedom?  Course not!  There'd have been no turning back.



Sunday, 3 September 2017

Ladybird ladybird

I just spent £7.99 at a charity shop on a little job lot of old books packed in a polythene bag.  How could I resist?!  They were 1960s Ladybird books, which everyone who grew up in Britain during their '60s and '70s heyday would surely, like me, find very evocative, and this was the one at the top:

I love that cover.

It looks like they'd all belonged to a boy called Graham.


They are a bit of a boyish selection, with tractors and cars, etc. - if that isn't too much of a gender stereotype - but Graham obviously liked his machines.


In my childhood home with two quite tomboyish girls (my sister had her Hot Wheels and I adored my clockwork train set), we definitely had the Toys And Games To Make book like the one in the picture.  Pretty sure we tried most of the suggestions in it with things we found in the sticky kitchen drawer.  You know the drawer, every household has one, full of bulldog clips, candles and miscellaneous hardware that “might come in handy one day” .  It definitely had corks and matchboxes, so we did alright. Ours smelt of rust and chocolate wafers for some reason too.

Hard to imagine many kids being impressed with the ideas in the book now, though...



I especially remember trying this one below and speaking to my sister in her bedroom, all the way from the bathroom:

What, no smartphone?

I've vivid memories too of owning a Ladybird book on how to tell the time, and another on Marco Polo; they all had that same feel, the illustrations very typical of their era.

From this batch, The Story Of Railways has some particularly charming images:



And is that a young Liam Gallagher making an appearance in the Cub Scouts volume?


Anyway I'm going to keep them for a bit - they're a part of history now.  I might even learn something (I mean, I'd completely forgotten what a 'vulgar fraction' is - Maths not my strong point)


And now I've a tenuous excuse to include this song too!

Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood:  Ladybird

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Boot Mending At Home and Other Stories


I just had to show you this - another odd little item of ephemera I salvaged from my late aunt and uncle's house when clearing it last year.  How could I not take it home?!  Inside it contains all the things you ever need to know, from a 'Cure For Drunkenness'


to how to make 'Curling Fluid For Hair'


and how 'To Cure Birds' Skins'  (why?)


Even better, though, are the adverts for other booklets by the same publisher - I would have them all if I could - I'm particularly intrigued by 'Should A Woman Tell?' in which Rev. A J Waldron discusses 'Heterodox Suggestions' (I think that's just another word for kinky?) and 'The White Slave Trade and Flogging' (surely some kind of code?)  Just what is 'The Woman's Question' and what is all this about 'telling'?*





Hopefully you can see/read more clearly if you want to by zooming in on this page or clicking on pics to view.

It's all delightfully tacky - I'd love to know how old it is but could find no reference to its issue date.

* UPDATE - I've discovered that 'Should A Woman Tell?' was a controversial play about the 'domestic morality problem'  from the early 1900s - an advertising poster's strapline for it reads 'Should a man demand from woman that which he refuses to give?'  So I'm still intrigued!

Monday, 14 August 2017

My FCV

I'm immensely honoured to contribute to a post on someone else's very fine blog today (thank you, Martin), in which I fantasise about what would happen if a Mod hero was on the receiving end of a little feminine touch down amid the tangled trees.  Well, erm, something sort of like that....

To find out more, please click here and take a look (and a listen).

That's all!

A wild wood
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...