Monday, 19 June 2017

Mental block

Oh dear, this is odd, I seem to have lost the ability to write a blog post.   Even typing this feels like an upward struggle and I’m not sure why but, of course, the more I think about it the harder it gets. I’m thinking about it far too much now, I know, aargh.   Can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried and then scrapped an idea . How many times I’ve backspaced - even now when I’m writing about it – I mean, I just backspaced there without anyone knowing and took half the original sentence out.  There have been those paragraphs I’ve composed in my head in that sort of stream of consciousness way when I’m doing the washing up or brushing my teeth which seem to make sense – “Yes!” I think, “quick, write it down! ("Yes, when I've dried my hands!") but then when I try, the words just won’t co-operate.

So really, just to say – after a disproportionate amount of time and effort to even string this much together - that I’m still here and all is fine but I’ve come up against a bit of a block at the moment when it comes to blogging.  As soon as I can kick it out of the way, I’ll try again.  Sort of hoping that just saying this will be a start. 

Fuck that backspace and....  


Orange Juice: Rip It Up

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Did you see butterflies?

So excited to get the new Jane Weaver album 'Modern Kosmology' last week - I'm indebted to a couple of fellow bloggers for pointing me in her direction (so a BIG thank you, I think you know who you are!)

It's great (sorry for such an unimaginative adjective) - one of those that just gets better the more you hear it, the more you tune into the detail, the mood, the femininity.

Whilst I'm not a music blogger as such, I don't have a lot to say on other subjects right now, so will just keep to the song and keep it brief today.  'Did You See Butterflies?' is the new single; it's gorgeous (shades of Lush and Stereolab, as mentioned by others before) and I know that because I'm in love with it, I just want you to be as well!  Funny how music has that effect, but it's a good thing.

I did see a butterfly yesterday too.... not many around here just yet.

Jane Weaver: Did You See Butterflies?

Thursday, 25 May 2017


Long-time friends of this blog will know that I lost a very dear friend, who also happened to be a close neighbour, last year.

Whilst personal memories live on in our own minds, when someone is as creative and special as he was, it's really meaningful for those who knew them to see their talents continue to be celebrated and shared in their absence with a wider audience

So I just wanted to spread the word, as I'm aware many of you may already know his sleeve artwork from your own record collections, that there is a lovely feature about him/interview with brother Matt in the new edition of Classic Pop (issue 29) - available from all good newsagents from today.

In loving memory of Andrew ('Andy Dog') Johnson

Wednesday, 24 May 2017


As I'm drifting off to sleep Monday night, Mr SDS joins me having stayed up a little later, and tells me the breaking news he’s just read online.  Details are still sketchy, but it’s bad.

Oh no.  Your heart sinks, just sinks.  The world is a flawed, fractured place, full of twisted, tortured souls.  You shield yourself from it as much as you can, you try at least to be kind, caring, in everyday life.   It’s not hard to be those things, not really - is it?  To just get on with your own life and let others get on with theirs, peacefully?  We're lucky here, imagine life elsewhere... but still.  I slip back into a restless slumber, these thoughts swirling around, wondering what nightmare reality I’ll be reading about on Tuesday, things most of us will never be able to understand.

I’m due to go into central London in the morning too.  “Don’t go”, Mr SDS pleads.  “Don’t go if you don’t have to”.  But I do have to.  I’m very aware that I live much of my life – out here in the quiet countryside - inside a cosy bubble.  There’s the irony:  probably the biggest danger I face on a daily basis is that of an insidious, creeping paranoia about the world outside it.   I must defy that paranoia as much as anything else, I must go because I want to go.  

So I get on the train to London, and on the tube, mingle with travellers in crowded carriages; there are extra police around, there are serious faces, I don’t think that Manchester is far from anyone’s mind this morning.  But there are smiley faces too - cities are gutsy places and they remind you: most people are alright, most people want the same basic, harmless things.  In the city of strangers I’m one of them, not going to give in to fear.

I have such a good day, meeting with lovely friends I haven’t seen in years – catching up over tea and cake and paintings.   I’d have missed all this had I let stupid paranoia win.  It's over too soon, and I walk back to catch my train through the metropolis, lapping up its sharp contrast to my usual habitat, here where the sirens are my screaming swifts and starlings, and office blocks and cranes pierce the sky instead of oak and poplar.  

“This train does stop at Colchester, doesn’t it?”   My solitary daze is broken as the woman with two huge pieces of luggage, almost as big as her, asks me this.  I've just boarded too.  Yes, it’s the right train, so she sits across the aisle from me and continues to talk. 

“I’ve been travelling all day...,” she says,  “...come down from Manchester…”

Weird how one particular word, on one particular day, can carry so much weight and meaning and, right out of the blue, it unites us. 

I’m drawn to her face, and in a split second of silence I’m reading her expression.  I need to talk, it says.  I need to talk about something. She has the air of someone who’s been awake all night, with a body tired but brain still buzzing.  Her bright blue eyes are a little watery.  Then she starts to tell me that she’s in the army, and she’d been called on duty in connection with the Manchester Arena incident.

As other people start to board the train, filling up the seats around me, I could just withdraw from the conversation with the woman across the aisle.  But instead  I find myself moving seats, to be with her.  She needs to talk.  She needs to talk about something.

And so I spend the next hour in unbroken conversation with a complete stranger, who’s been awake for 37 hours and who, in spite of having been stationed in Afghanistan and served as a medic, tells me how intensely affected she feels by the night’s events.  By what she’d seen and heard, what she knew so far, what lies ahead too.  I let her talk.  My eyes are a little watery.

But we speak about other stuff too, and some stuff I never knew, because I’ve never chatted to someone who’s in the army, it’s a world away from mine - a world away from my cosy bubble.  I’m so glad I stepped out of it today; I learned so much more than I ever bargained for.  

There’s no punchline to this, no big revelation… I just want to express it.  My train companion is going to stay in my mind for a very long while.  She needed to talk, and I’m so glad I could listen.

Love and peace to Manchester.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Fare thee well

Just heard news of the death of Geoffrey Bayldon yesterday, at the age of 93.  One of my favourite actors, he was best known, I'm sure, for his fantastically animated and utterly convincing portrayal of Catweazle, the eponymous time-travelling character in what has to be one of the best children's TV programmes ever made.  Who could forget electrickery, the telling bone, Castle Saburac and Touchwood the toad?  And "Nothing works"! I'm sure its magic rubbed off on many of us of a certain vintage and may explain a lot...

He was known for many other parts too, not least the Crowman in Worzel Gummidge as well as a teacher in the superb film To Sir With Love; he even played the role of a butler in the tea party scene in Marc Bolan's Born to Boogie.

RIP Geoffrey.  Fare thee well.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Bittersweet (slight return)

This morning I watched the final episode of Peter Kay's Car Share.  Fellow bloggers Alyson at What's It All About?John Medd  and Rol at My Top Ten (- apologies if I've missed anyone else) have already written some perfect posts mentioning this excellent series so I don't want to repeat what's already been expressed so well.  But as I watched the final scene with watery eyes (I'm at that age...) I was reminded of how I felt thinking about a bittersweet relationship my mum once had (and I'm not talking about the one with my dad!).  I wrote about it here about in the distant past, and then after it had been up for a while I got cold feet and took it down!  However, it seems such a long while ago, and I hope you won't mind - but in the absence of anything new to say today and with those thoughts having risen to the surface again, I'm going to re-post it now.

I had called it 'Bittersweet'....


There's a risk that this is going to read like an episode of that mawkish 'Our Tune' slot that Simon Bates included on his Radio One show during the '80s.  For anyone not familiar - 'Our Tune' was a much parodied feature in which listeners sent in their personal stories, frequently about doomed relationships and often with sad, sometimes tragic, endings.  Mr Bates read these out with about as much compassion as a melamine table, and then a song which was particularly significant to the (usually unhappy) couple was played - hence the 'our tune' of the title.   It was handy to keep a sick bucket nearby.

I hated the whole premise of 'Our Tune'.  However (when stumbled upon by accident, of course...) I'll admit it could be horribly compelling.  I guess there was a good reason for it being popular because, perhaps, all the most rousing love stories are bittersweet.  Smooth sailings and happy endings may be what everybody ultimately seeks, but they don’t power up emotional responses in quite the same way as tales of lovers caught between the agony and the ecstasy of a not-so-straightforward relationship. 

One time this struck me was at my mum’s funeral, just over 18 years ago. I was introduced to an old man whom I’d never met before, although I'd heard about him.  As he looked at me, his simple exclamation of “Ohh!” was loaded with more emotion than I'd bargained for.  He went on to explain, “You look SO much like her!”  He was visibly moved and shocked at seeing what must have seemed like a younger incarnation of my mother.  (Much as I would like to have inherited her long slim legs, I got my dad's.  But I did get her face.)  “I'm SO sorry she's gone,” he continued, his warm smile doing little to disguise his immense grief, “She was very special to me.”

It turned out that this was my mum’s friend 'D'.  I knew a little about him because he'd been a constant over the last ten, or more, years of her life, and she'd mentioned him a fair bit.  She and my dad divorced when I was in my teens, but she had one of those personalities that always seemed to attract people. Not always the right people.  Quite a few relationships had developed, most of which were pretty short-lived (although I'm sure she wasn't the easiest person to be with). 

For instance... there had been the one with 'Mummy’s Boy', a 'true gent' type who seemed perfect until it became apparent that everything he did was dependent on approval - and not even from my mother, but from his.  Now that's bad enough, but even more ridiculous given that he was in his sixties... 

There was also an intense romance with 'Alcoholic Author', whose bright mind she admired but whose more frequently foggy state of mind and inability to help himself were, sadly, impossible for her to cope with.  That one did end in 'Our Tune' style tragedy - but we'll not go there here.  

Plus let's not forget 'Old Teacher', who had been the Biology Master at my sister's school and had become a family friend, but whose inappropriate attempts to give my mum a biology lesson of an altogether different kind in the kitchen one day were less than welcome.  And I thought he'd only come round to look at the ducklings (we were fostering some at the time in an inflatable paddling pool).

Finally there was 'Irish Builder', an unlikely match (given she'd always gone for mind over muscle) but whose macho Gaelic charm initially brought a sparkle to her eyes that would have been more befitting of a 16-year-old, only to be extinguished by some selfish, unpredictable behaviour.  He did at least encourage her to increase her otherwise tiny appetite because he insisted she kept her larder stocked full of potatoes (honestly.  That sounds like a bad and possibly very suspect Irish joke, I know, but I'm not kidding).  Well, he was the last 'official' beau in her life, and she sometimes stayed at his house in London, where she was slightly freaked out once by the framed photo of his dead wife falling off the wall while she was there (you couldn't make it up, could you..?)  But when my mum died he was already off the scene, as were the other men.   

Except for 'D'. 

I think 'D' and my mum would have been great together.  They shared a passion for literature and the arts and she was drawn to his intellect and romantic flair, while he adored her artistic nature and depth.  It turned out that, even though they didn’t meet until later in life in the rural village where they then lived, they'd actually grown up in exactly the same area of East London.  (Their secondary schools were closely located and I can’t help but wonder if they’d ever eyed each other up as teenagers from opposite sides of the road, never realising that decades later they would become such friends.)

They eventually met many miles away from their urban roots, in the bookshop where he worked, and soon developed a strong rapport.  My mum told me they often spent long afternoons together talking about everything under the sun.  Sometimes, she admitted wistfully, he'd hold her hand or hug her closely.   I know that they cared about each other tremendously, and what they felt for each other was love.  'D' was married - but now his wife had health issues, so she depended on him to look after her to some extent.  I suppose he'd become her carer, and that must be a difficult and sad thing to happen in any marriage.

My mum felt a little awkward about her close friendship with 'D', and had no intention of causing problems for him and his wife, so she continued to lead the life of a single woman.  She managed to meet a few men who must have been special to her for a while - including those mentioned earlier - and maybe if she'd lived longer she might have had a relationship that could have worked out longer term.  I think 'D' must have found the situation quite painful at times (and so must she)  but his unconditional devotion to her, as a soul-mate I suppose, never wavered.  No wonder he showed such emotion after her death, and was additionally moved at the image of her that he saw in my similar features when we met.  That was quite a moment.

Soon after the funeral my sister and I were going through her belongings and came across some cards which she'd tucked away in a drawer. It took a little while to decipher the signature, but then we realised they were from 'D'.   The poetic words inside - or maybe it's what I'm reading in between the lines - say so much, obviously enough for my mum to have wanted to keep them forever.  But what do we do with these things? - those letters, photos, cards? -  those tokens of love and friendship that can mean so much at the time, even if that time can't last.  I don’t know quite why, but I couldn’t throw them away either, so they are now tucked away in one of my drawers. 

'D' tracked me down one day a few years ago, completely out of the blue, to say he was going to send me some pictures - not photos, but pictures from old books - that he thought I’d appreciate, having some similar tastes to my mum.  Sadly he died before got round to it.  Of course I wonder what they were...  and I guess I would have kept them too.  But as 'D' and my mum (and 'D''s wife...) are no longer around, it feels okay to mention their story here.  (I just hope you didn't read this with Simon Bates' voice in your head - I sound nothing like him...)

I doubt that they had a special 'our tune'...  but if they did, the secret of what it was - along with many other secrets, I expect - went with them.

Anyway, writing this gives me a chance to share this tune, from the beautiful Kelli Ali (ex Sneaker Pimps).  I think she puts it very well.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

The power of pop

Just a quickie today, but had one of those moments yesterday hearing something on the car radio and I'm sure you'll know the kind I mean:  Mr SDS was driving and we were nattering away, but when the intro to this song started up I had to tell him to "Shhh!"   "It's almost a bit like power pop!" I said, "...'78/'79 jangly power pop! I need to know who it is..."

Tuning myself in, what I heard was actually sweet, shameless, modern pop.  The kind that just makes you want to smile because it's simply pure and real and catchy.

We then got stuck behind a maintenance lorry at some roadworks  'cause Anglian Water were digging up the pavement and I was so pleased because it meant I could hear the rest of the song without it having to battle against the engine noise (the joy of a start-stop system!) It will now forever be associated in my mind with that little section of the A131.

Anyway.... it was Declan McKenna with 'Brazil'.  He was just 16 when he wrote and recorded this. He looks so young in this original video, aww!  (It's since been updated - I much prefer this earlier one posted below).   But reading up about him reveals a maturity beyond his years; he self-released this as his first single in August 2015 and, in spite of his lightness of touch musically, his lyrical content is darker and political - a criticism of FIFA awarding the World Cup to Brazil in 2014 without addressing the effect of the huge degree of poverty on its people.

He's touring this month and has an album out in July.  At the risk of sounding like an old fart, he helps restore my faith in....oh dear, do I really have to say it like this?!.... the 'youth of today'...

Declan McKenna: Brazil

Monday, 24 April 2017

'Your Attention Please'

Well, at least there’s one good thing about the threat of nuclear Armageddon; it isn’t half inspiring.  I mean – the cover art on this pamphlet drew me in immediately.  

Fabulous graphics!  I found it on the floor of one of the rooms in my late aunt and uncle’s house whilst having a final look around on Friday before the house clearance people come.  It was next to a copy of this, a little bit of light reading from 1948:

and some other literature which I just had to save – like this (far more cheerful) 1951 programme from the Folies Bergère.  

I can’t resist this kind of ephemera, I love the history as well as the aesthetics, the connection to an intriguing past I don’t know.  But the ‘Death Stands At Attention - A Protest against the H Bomb Tests’ leaflet – created and distributed 60 years ago (and what have we learned?) - seems particularly, chillingly, apposite for today.  Click on images to enlarge for reading, if you dare.

Not that I’m wanting to dwell on it, but the idea of nuclear holocaust has been prominent in my psyche before now – if you were hanging around in the anarcho punk scene with Crass and Flux of Pink Indians in the early 1980s, as I was, it was pretty much mandatory.  However, perhaps one of the most haunting and memorable tunes to come out of the doom and gloom of imminent radiation poisoning was from a far more melodic post-punk band, Scars.  

There was something really charming about Scars.  They formed in Edinburgh in the late ‘70s, recorded a session for John Peel in 1980 and a second one in 1981, when they also made just one album, Author! Author!  It was a great album, but sadly the following year the band ceased to be and there were no more releases.

I remember listening to Author! Author! and in particular this song (first put out as a flexi disc that came free with the style magazine, i-D) and really getting the heebie-jeebies; it still sounds incredibly disturbing now.  But proof that the prospect of the end of the world is, as I said earlier, very creatively inspiring, so it's not all bad, eh  - every mushroom cloud has a silver lining.   I just hope with all my heart that this post isn’t too what you might call... erm... 'timely'.

Scars: Your Attention Please
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