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

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

A new amusement

I don’t like football so the idea of a fantasy football league doesn’t mean a thing, but ‘fantasy cover versions’?  Love it.  Thanks to Martin at the excellent blog New Amusements, I’ve been ruminating over ideas for these all week…    Please take a look at his introductory post to see what it’s all about and his first suggestion - anyone can join in.

I’ve picked something I’d love to hear covered by an artist I particularly admire, which is due to feature on New Amusements  next week.  And Rol from the brilliant My Top Ten has come up with something  truly inspired

It’s become a talking point here at SDS Towers too.  Mr SDS suggested he’d like to hear Kacey Musgraves singing Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Landslide’ (imagining it sounding similar to the great Dixie Chicks’ version) – but on looking it up he found a live version she’d done with Lady Antebellum, so it wouldn’t really count (it has to be true fantasy!)  Would still like to hear a studio version, though (so, if you're reading this, Kacey?!)  He was also reminded of a colleague from years ago who’d once said he fancied hearing Nirvana tackling the La’s ‘There She Goes’.     I can imagine that too, stretching Kurt’s voice nicely and perhaps delivered in the manner of the MTV Unplugged sessions.  See - once you start thinking about it….  

Please go drop Martin a line via his blog if you fantasise about such things too.   I'd love to see more.

Dear Mr Fantasy, play us a tune
Something to make us all happy
Do anything, take us out of this gloom
Sing a song, play guitar, make it snappy



(One for Paul Weller to cover, perhaps?!)

Thursday, 27 July 2017

A load of old musket balls

It’s five to 4.  The man in long khaki shorts has just come out of the portacabin in the car park and is picking up the pavement sign.   Typical.  The one time I’ve finally decided to stop and take a detour on my way to the Co-op to venture inside for a look and now I’m too late.   “Oh, are you closing...?” I ask.  I’m aware that I probably sound disappointed.  “Well, should close at 4, but it’s okay, I can stay open - no hurry,” he replies, looking at his watch.  Actually he seems keen that someone is interested.  So, once I’ve checked that it really is alright, and he definitely doesn’t having to rush off for anything  (“stay as long as you like!” he offers merrily), I enter  the portacabin and have a good look round.

There are a couple of tiny ornate Roman brooches which catch my eye.  They are delicate and beautiful, and all the more captivating for just knowing they’re over 1000 years old.  Next to them, a small collection of musket balls.  These look familiar – I’m sure I’ve found something that looks very similar in my garden, and I’ve kept it in a saucer along with a selection of broken crockery pieces, the ubiquitous pieces of clay pipe, flints - next to a bowlful of bird skulls.  Other items here in the Heritage Centre include Iron Age tools, Georgian coins, Roman buckles.  I love these things.  Little pieces of history, tiny remnants of lives left behind.  It’s nothing out of the ordinary, probably not even of value, and it’s around us all the time, beneath us, maybe not that far below the surface.

“It’s fascinating!  I’ll come back when there’s more time,”  I tell the man, and I will.

Continuing on my way to the Co-op with these archaic finds in my mind, my thoughts turn naturally to my current favourite TV series, ‘Detectorists’.  There’s so much to like about Mackenzie Crook’s charming comedy based around two men hoping to find the remains of a Saxon ship and ancient gold with their metal detectors (and even the word ‘comedy’ doesn’t quite do it justice): the pace, the humour, the pathos, the acting and characters. But as much as anything for me is the beautiful cinematography and my additional personal connection to the familiar mellow landscapes of its setting, as it was filmed not far from here.


I pick up some Fairy Liquid and a bag of Bombay Mix and head home, the back way this time, by the allotments.  A Red Admiral settles on the path in front of me, spiky leaves of globe thistles rub against the sunflowers, I notice a dead woodpigeon in the brambles, I drift along in a world of my own… make sure I don’t sprain my ankle again…. wonder if I’ll see the chickens, there’s a coop just along here… must check that musket ball thing I found when I get home, I'll be on the look-out for more now ….and then my thoughts are broken by a sound.  A strange, whiny, uneven sound, a bit like a gate swinging back and forth on rusty hinges, but not regular enough, too extreme.  It’s coming from the other side of the allotment, behind the trees, I think.  A sort of whistle but, no, not a whistle, more synthetic… sort of beeping…  where’ve I heard that before?

It only dawns on me as the path ends and joins up with the car park again at the back of the Heritage Centre that I’ve just heard a metal detector.  Or should I say: detectorist. Perfect.

(I wonder if they found anything.  Or (to quote) fuck all...)


A saucerful of secrets.  My equivalent to the 'Finds Table'.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Behind the wall of sleep

If I ever win something on the Lottery (unlikely, I don’t do it), or come into some inheritance (unlikely, no-one still around with anything to leave), or you're a generous philanthropist reading this now (lovely to meet you!) – there's something, not too out-of-this-world, I'd just like to do.

It's fairly modest: a kind of art project - travelling around Europe photographing windows.  Not any old windows, though; I know what I’m looking for - ones that, soon as I notice them, have a strange, déjà-vu effect, as if I’ve been on the inside of them, looking out.  I’ll be out of harm’s way, in the open air, but I’ll know that, on the other side of their small, dirty panes, up high and out of reach (always up high), all manner of unspoken danger and supernatural wickedness lurks.  I'll know because I’ve been behind these windows many times, in dreams.

The recurring theme (probably a common one?) is that I’m wandering through a building – often an old house with paneled walls and narrow staircases, like you see in creepy 1940s films, but sometimes they're industrial or 1970s office blocks – and I go higher and higher.  Everything's fine until I step into the very top room or space with that window, and then I feel ‘the malevolent presence’.   Sometimes I'm trapped, peering out at a normal world I can't get to.  I never see the source of my fear, just sense something very sinister in the room.  I'm sure a psychoanalyst would have an explanation.  I might not want to hear it, mind.

Anyway, maybe I'd overcome these disturbing dreams by capturing the physical image of the windows themselves? It would be great just to have enough freedom and funds to go travelling with a cool high-tech camera (once I've learned how to use it)  and then I could click away to my heart's content (in between eating linguine in Tuscany and visiting the Louvre in Paris. Perks of the job).  Let me know if you fancy doing the driving.

I s'pose that's what dreams are for, the daydreams anyway... that's where things start, tho' in this case it started with nightmares.

I'm unlikely to have time/money to fully indulge in something pointless like this, though. Who does?  It's a shame, isn't it -  all the things we might do if only we could just suspend normal life for long enough and take off with no other concerns.  Not major life changes or ambitions, just 'projects' - things that really are possible, but need a bit more than you have.

Meanwhile then, I took a short stroll locally (before I sprained my ankle!) and found a few high windows, the best I could do with limited time, anyway.  Here are just three crappy, furtive pics to try and show what I mean.  (I had to tell the owner of one that I was photographing a bird on his roof as I didn’t want to let him in on the unspeakable paranormal malevolence in his attic.)

Are they a bit creepy, or is it just me?  I mean, just imagine yourself, trapped behind them, where no-one can hear you scream....

Don't be misled by the pretty gable around that spooky top window 

Even the alarm won't protect from the evil presence in that attic room

The tiny ancient window up there on the left
offers no escape from the terrifying ghosts within

Monday, 10 July 2017

Dark night of the sole

How is it that sometimes the slightest of injuries can cause a disproportionate degree of pain?  Like paper-cuts.  Ugh.

I had a fairly innocuous injury yesterday afternoon when I sort of ‘fell off’ a strappy sandal and twisted my ankle .  The sudden spraining hurt but then it went all warm (actually felt very nice) and I carried on.  We were at our village’s annual Summer do and hung about to watch a band (surprisingly good), no problem to stand while they played their Who and Cream covers, didn’t feel a thing.  We enjoyed that special smell of trampled-on grass combined with deep fat frying that you only ever get at these events, then walked the half-mile back home, all was fine for an hour, and then, unexpectedly, the pain really kicked in.

It got worse, so intense I couldn’t put any weight on my ankle and had to crawl up the stairs to bed on my hands and knees (very undignified).  Lying there with my foot propped up trying unsuccessfully to get to sleep my thoughts went off on a dark dismal walk of their own.  My ankle was never going to be the same, I’d have to give up going out – going anywhere at all - and we’d need to leave our little home because we couldn’t fit a Stannah Stair Lift.  I’d get so fat through immobility that I’d have to be hoisted in and out of bed and end up featuring in a Channel 5 programme about the dangers of strappy footwear:  ‘My Sandals Ruined My Life’.  Oh, the shame.

Those dark nights of the soul are bastards, aren’t they?  I’ve had them before, where a hairline crack in the bathroom wall ends up with the whole terrace collapsing, and with it the entire fabric of your life.

I heard the milkman's bottles clinking at 3.30 this morning and next door’s dog barking at his footsteps...

...The first cars of the day crunching on the tarmac on their way to the 6am shift at the factory down the road.

As the darkness of the night started to subside, so did the worst of the pain, and so did the thoughts.  Resting the foot today, in between hobbling.  Throwing out the sandals.


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