Wednesday, September 30, 2009

More About Big Ben University

The tutor is called Tony Erickson, and he doesn't understand a word he's saying, and half the girls and half the boys are called Sam, so when he asks Sam to answer a question, they all answer in unison.

Treasure Trove

Me and my pal went in a great shop the other day.
I have driven past it loads of times and craned my neck to see what was in there but it got so tempting I had to park up and have a look.
The shop is called Audiogold and it's sort of in between Muswell Hill and Hornsey (Park Road) or Crouch End and Alexandra Park, depending on who you are and where you are coming from (!).
It is stuffed with vintage speakers, portable record players that you can stack your singles on and have them play one by one, microphones, old beatboxes, old radios (including a radiogram), headphones, vinyl albums and singles, and comfy chairs to sit on.
It's a proper shop- totally uncorporate, the sort that has regular pop-in customers who don't buy anything, haven't ever and probably never will. The odour of leatherette pervades, and I was charmed by a child's miniature toy piano (unfortunately possibly the only item in the shop that wasn't for sale).
Old telephones are sprinkled about the place: it's nerd's heaven and was very difficult to leave once we were in there.
I bought some carry boxes to store my old 7" singles in and I've spent this afternoon happily forcing them in, only just having bought enough boxes to house the collecsh.
I imagine sitting in a big old room with a choice of vintage speakers to listen on, clicking through each set with a switching device and eating marshmallows while I do so.

The Football

I went to see Barnet play Dagenham last night- Bees versus Daggers!
I love the ground at Barnet, cos it's straight out of The Hotspur and with a visible slope that seems to get steeper as the game progresses.
Barnet was playing downhill in the first half and the team were playing very well- nippy and neat and quick, and they scored one goal about 20 minutes in and another not so long after.
We drank plastic-flavoured tea and marvelled at the wonderful condition of the pitch (it;s like a bowling green at the moment).
After half time, the Daggers must have had a pep talk because they played loads better, down the bottom of the slope (and far away from where we were standing on the terraces, unforchly). They sped up and an air of desperation took them as they frantically grabbed the ball and tried to score: but it just didn't happen.
We counted six balls in the locals' front gardens (one brought back by a sleepy boy a few minutes later).
The fans were in great voice all the way through and the man of the match was the Barnet goalie, who is probably the perfect goalie: strong and supportive when the action's somewhere else but bloody fast and sharp when someone's trying to get a ball past him.
As a non-expert, I could see that Barnet need to remember to keep their wits about them throughout the game and not just in the first half. They are good at defending themselves generally but they need to remember that they have to have that 'attack' stamina all the way through, for when they play really aggressive and experienced teams later on in the season.
Sometimes the guys weren't there when the ball was; and sometimes they guy with the ball just needed to try to score rather than dribbling it around to a place of safety, by which time the opposition had made off with it.
They reminded me of my teenage boy cat, thrilled by his own natural energy and agility, amazed at his own speed and full of joie-de-vivre, clever and smart, but sometimes short on strategy.
But all in all, great game- good team, and watched in good company!

Score: Barnet 2 Dagenham 0

Monday, September 28, 2009

What's All This?

...I asked myself as I logged on to a Hotmail account I have.
'Get more done thanks to greater ease and speed'
Someone flogging happy pills? I read it as
'Get more done thanks to greater 'E's and Speed'.

Big Ben University

I am going to write a radio play set at the fictitious Big Ben University (main campus: Crawley), based on a fictitious lecture in the B.A. Cultural Studies (Reality Television) department.
Mobile phone rintones will be interrupted by the gashing rip of black nylon velcro bags being undone; a singer-songwriter who writes desperately miserable songs in a minor key will be enrolled: his name is E. Moaner.
All the other boys are called Dan (3), Tom (3), Ben (4), Ed (2) or other names of three letters or less.
The girls are either Olivia (4), Georgia (2), or Melody (3).
There is also a large Alsatian dog enrolled on the course. Nobody knows how or why, but in these days of Equal Opportunities, he will not be challenged.
Halfway through the lecture, someone drops a ping pong ball in the top tier of the lecture theatre; it bounces down merrily, three bounces per step, gaining momentum as it descends.
Hushed, the students dare not stop it in its course.
That bit actually happened at Sunderland Polytechnic in 1975.


Yesterday evening Martin recorded some songs for me using a new USB microphone to get an unplugged effect- they may well be for my next album, or if not, very high quality demos.
Recording informally like that makes you sing differently- more as though you are singing to yourself or just one or two other people.
I've put Dreaming of You on Myspace as it's a song that is being revived for the Desperado Housewives gig; and Monday's Mood, just because it's a song from the old days.
The next song I'm writing is about Wood Green Shopping City.
I hung out there while I was doing jury service two years ago, looking at all the things I didn't want to buy with all the people who didn't have enough money to buy anything anyway.
Today, I noticed the Chuggers (the charity muggers) in Barnet High Street being hoisted on their own petards, as unemployed people took delight in finding someone to indulge in long conversations with.
One chap was telling someone all about his central heating problems; time on his hands and no money in his pockets!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

In Which The Desperado Housewives Have A Rehearsal

We thought we'd try out our scheme of singing a song each, following a loose and winding thread from one idea to another, and we met up at Jude's lovely house in Mottingham to give it a go.
I had been wondering how our different styles would work, but after this, I can see that it's going to work really well.
Kath's songs are gently funny, building up a naive-seeming picture that gradually materialises into a knowing disruption of everything around her; Jude's are almost Dickensian in their darkly moral lack of morals; mine are quirky takes on emotional subjects (well, I think so: but that seems to describe all 3 of us).
Apart from anything else, it's going to be wonderful to share a stage with 2 such interesting song writers. The best thing will be if we can paint our world and invite people into it.
Will I dare to wear the lilac chiffon Abigail's Party dress that Martin brought me back from Australia?
I think so!

The first ever Desperado Housewives gig will be at Liquid Nation in West London next Tuesday.
Details to follow!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

From the Brain of a Teenager











Want more.



Friday, September 25, 2009

Packing Casualty

I realised with horror this morning that another casualty of the chaos of moving half a lifetime's worth of stuff has been a set of photos probably from the 1950s of my family when we were all spring buds: it wasn't just the nostalgia but was also the aesthetics- the colours had mellowed to jewel-like turquoises, deep reds and creamy ivory.
There was one of tiny versions of Big Bruv and myself, packed into a bed with McMum reading us a story which you can almost read from our faces. Bruv's hair was a mass of coppery curls that glowed out of the photograph like a beacon.
There was another of McDad with us, next to our semi-basement kitchen window. There was no door out from the kitchen to the garage where the car was, and we used to climb out of the window to go to church each Sunday.
I always used to visualise this as we sang the hymn 'Father, Lead Me Day By Day'; father climbed out of the window first, followed by children, and mother last to shut the window.
I'd been carrying them round to scan, and they must have fallen out of the book I had them in.
But what a nice surprise! This morning, Zoot sent through this photo of The Chefs (thank you Zoot!). It must have been a very early incarnation- perhaps as early as 1979 because my hair is short. But not too early- I'm playing Bruv's bass, which means this photo was taken in between my Hofner bass being stolen by Hell's Angels, and by it's miraculous return (the story is here in this blog, miles ago).
Back to yesterday's posting: doesn't life have many episodes? I am lucky to have really good recall (or unlucky, sometimes, as some of the more exciting episodes have been rather nasty).
Sometimes I get really down, but then I wouldn't exchange my life for anyone else's.
This, I think, is a good testing point to define the difference between true depression and a fit of the miseries, and on occasions when I or a friend start sinking, we talk about this.
It is surprising how many people do value all of their life's experiences, good and bad.
A bland life? No thanks!

Thursday, September 24, 2009


There are aspects of the University of the East that are desperately frustrating: the trigger-happy email system, for instance (did they buy it cheaply from China?) which chose two delete not only the complex email I'd sent to book studios and equipment for my students, but also the duplicate safety email, sent from another address in order to trick the trigger-happy email system.
Patiently, the man in the equipment store and myself Tried Not To Moan and did the whole lot again.

Then a house-panic occurred, the millionth of many seemingly insurmountable and frustrating problems. The estate agent's voice whined faintly against a sonic backdrop of jets taking off loudly from London City Airport and the outdoor disco to welcome new students ('Oh yes, we do this all the time here at the University of the East, you know!').
I broke into end-of-tether type perspiratiion.
As I waited for a slow-moving printer ( 'wait a minute' was ten minutes, and then seconds started to be added, so I left before my head exploded), I decided to give the rest of the morning a miss, and headed for the Woolwich ferry.

What a day-rescuing surprise it was!
Neatly packed between juggernauts, we swept over the Thames in a trice, unloaded ourselves without fuss, and I could deliver the dolls-house to Sarah's nursery classroom and hope all the bits were there to be put together.
I was too vexed by the morning's issues to stay for a cup of tea but it was nice to see Sarah even briefly, and the ferry did it again on the way back.
A gold lurex dragonfly crackled past the car window and settled on the leaf-green tarpaulin of a neighbouring eighteen-wheeler.
I leapt out to take a picture but it twinkled off, too shy perhaps, or maybe it wanted to show its party clothes to its lover before appearing on the cover of Hello.
As we docked, a lone starling sang its heart out on a rotten joist under the jetty, having found something utterly joyful to tell us all about in starlingese.

I went into the giant Tesco at Gallion's Reach. Ugh. I stood it for fifty seconds and had to leave- the noise, the bad manners, the volume of crappy stuff I didn't want, the trolley that thought it could go in four directions at once ( or at least the wheels did).

The rest of the afternoon was a chair-slumper as I tried to sort out the house-panic.
I looked at the semi-dismantled wardrobe. The eBay buyer had turned up alone to take away a big wardrobe. He had his mother in law with him, who sat looking ghostly in a chiffon scarf in the front window of his white van in the dark outside the house. He took off a door with much huffing and puffing, knocked a chunk out of the chimney breast as he tried to move it forward, and then left. I now have a doorless wardrobe that I can't sell.
Oh well
Oh well
A wardrobe
I can't sell
Bloody Hell
He paid all of £1.24 for it. Somehow I have the feeling that if he'd paid £50 he would have come back and taken it away the next day!

This evening I went over to Tottenham to play at Chances. The audience was sparse but the spirit was there. A Russian called Anton sang songs about booze and cigarettes that had a hint of Velvet Underground about them. There was a very good poet and a P.A. system that seemed to be doing everything it could to sabotage everyone's sets (maybe it has a Degree from the University of the East).
I like what Razz does at his nights- he mixes experienced and inexperienced performers, and it is touching to see people get more confident over a few weeks as they find their feet.

The day has been like a book made of chapters of different books slung together randomly, and reminded me of when we used to amuse ourselves at school by splicing sentences from our separate library books together during compulsory reading, making nonsense soup out of Heidi, Little Women and The Jungle Book as we read them aloud together with innocent faces while the fiendish teacher stalked the room.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


The dusty fire grate went off to a woman in pristine white trousers, driven off in a brand new car, presumably dispensing gobbets of grime on to its brand-new carpet all the way home; the tiles, plus a selection of surprised woodlice and panicking mini-spiders, were packed up into plastic boxes and piled into a very posh vehicle with satnav and what could well have been a personalised numberplate.
After my wardrobe misadventure later on that night (which I will tell you about in a couple of days: I hope the situation rectifies itself before then!), I needed a day off, so I met Joan Ashworth, my animator and animated friend, at the Victoria and Albert after snaffling a forbidden croissant in desperation, having missed breakfast.
We had gone to see the 'Telling Tales' exhibition, a fascinating little exhibition of artefacts that tell a story. There's a boat that's actually a bath with taps at the end (the water is inside, rather than outside), a cow-shaped bench made of leather, some slippers made of moles, and all sorts of other Grimms Fairy Tale type things.
Afterwards we went into the courtyard for coffee, where there were lots of beautiful little lime trees in pots (not an orangery- a limery?) and a selection of beautiful little people sitting round eating almond cake and sipping beverages. It had a bit of a continental feel, those high-windowed red brick walls and the oasis of calm with chaotic and grubby Exhibition Road just over the other side.
The V & A has a brilliant shop, with things that look like exhibits. Some of them are furiously expensive but you can get something for £1.50 (all right, it's a button, but a very special big one made of porcelain with a bluebird painted on it!). I gobbled it all up with my eyes and bought you a little something for your birthday Sarah, but I'm not going to tell you what it is!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Goodbye Dans

These funny little china men jumped into the bin last week. They had missing toes and feet. I'd had them since I was a little girl. they reminded me of our chant at school:
"Dan, Dan, the dirty man
Washed his face in a frying pan'.

Monday, September 21, 2009


Amazingly, the little rubber Pillsbury Dough Man with '25p' written on the back of its head has got two watchers of its own on eBay.
I sold the wardrobe for £1.24. Do you think they will come to pick it up?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

tea break

I'm having a tea break. I was up at 9, clipping the hedges in the front of the house and wiping the missile traces off the windows (regularly, idiots walk down this road throwing things at the houses). Then I packed and threw away more stuff, got the dolls house out of the loft, and generally spent the day grafting at it all.
In my tea break, I have been singing, and browsing the internet.
Much to my amusement, when searching Martin's releaes on Amazon, I discovered that 'Customers who bought this also bought'... a set of Philips nose-hair clippers! There they are, in between Gladsome Humour and Blue and High 7 Moon 5, or something. What a sign of the times, or spirit of the age, or something like that!
Next discovery was that Time Out has listed a solo slot I'm playing on Thursday, and according to them, I am an 'Oddly named singer-songwriter'. They don't mention the oddly named voodoo poet on the same bill, Cam Ringell.
Personally, I think 'Time Out' is a very oddly-named magazine, and they should be rechristened forthwith. The name 'Helen McCookerybook' trips off the tongue nicely so they can use that if they wish.

Thursday's gig is at Tottenham Chances, 399 High Road Tottenham, London, N17 6QN, start time 8 p.m. Cost £3.50, £2.50 concs

Saturday, September 19, 2009

In Which The Bands Had As Much Fun As The Audience

I don't know how we pulled it off, but we managed to play I set I felt really proud of last night- the Horns were almost note-perfect, better than they were 25 years ago in fact, and the Daintees' audience were very kind to us (and we had a few people to see us too, thank you for coming along to support us!). I LOVED it- I made a few mistakes as I got distracted by enjoying it so much but I don't think anyone really noticed and I have learned not to draw attention to these things. The Horns loved it too, I could tell by their playing and by the energy on stage before we even came off.
The the Daintees (version 50!) played an absolute blinder of a set. Chris Mordey (bass) had come down from Newcastle, had never met John Steele (guitar) or Kate Stephenson (no relation, on drums) but everything just fell into place and they played a rocky set that showed Martin's songwriting off to a tee. I have never heard so many people in the audience singing along before- some people always do, but last night there were a lot of people who sang every song from beginning to end. The highlight was the walkabout section where Martin, John, Kate and Paul Sax disappeared up the stairs and out into the street, leaving Chris behind patiently playing bass. The audience suddenly started applauding him and he looked up, puzzled at being the centre of attention, then walked to the centre of the stage to take his applause, then down the stairs came the others to finish the song with a bang. It was a fantastic atmosphere, a really happy night with an incredibly friendly audience.
At the end, Diana and myself were frantically selling CDs before the nightclub started up. I lost 3 pens, Diana lost one and Martin lost one (signing CDs), but we did sell a lot of albums and we ate a lot of nuts (they were on the rider) and talked a helluva lot of talking.
What a night!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Grandmother Box

It is possible I may never become a Grandmother (I've always wanted to be one as my own Grannies were perfect).
If not, I will become an honorary Grandmother, and therefore I have created a Grandmother Box.
It is big enough for Lego, a big yellow Tonka truck, some teddies and a load of baby clothes that belonged to Offsprogs One and Two, and possibly some books as well. It will go into storage along with all the music and lyrics from all the children's music projects and musicals I've written over the years, plus cassettes of old Chefs tracks and so on, until I get the chance to compile them and release them, hopefully some time early next year.
My friend Carol came to stay last night: she was buzzing because she had been to Downing Street to a reception where she met Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah. She said their little kids were there, heckling Gordon Brown (they are about two and four) and she spent the time introducing people to each other and met people like Cath Kidston.
She says she thinks Facebook is great, so I guess I'll give it another go.
Now I have to go and run through the songs for tomorrow night!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Home from Home

The local charity shops are beginning to look more like home than home does.
'That's a nice shirt', I think, and realise I thought that very same thing ten years ago when I bought it.
Meanwhile, home is beginning to look like a charity shop with its spilling bags of this and that.
Every so often, a clearing appears until its swamped by a tide of cupboard contents.
I'm not sure if I'm getting better at throwing stuff away or whether I'm merely relocating it and putting the decisions off till another day. Sometimes, allowing a few objects to hang around for a few days means that they start to irritate me and it's really easy to move them on. At other times, I become increasingly attached to things that should really go. I can't give away the Lego, for instance- and the pile of torn children's books that I read bedtime stories from over and over again.
But there are pristine and beautiful children's books that were never opened because they were so smart and proper, and those ones will easily be given away because they don't seem to belong to the past in the way the worn out ones do.
What about movement-sensitive Big Mouth Billy Bass? He used to hang on our wall in our old house and suddenly sing 'Don't worry, be happy' if you walked past him, his rubber head folding scarily sideways and his lips smacking as he robotted at you. He's truly scary. Could I use him in my office to frighten students who haven't done their essays? Or should he be re-homed to a loving family to mouth at their visitors and make their toupees fall off?
I rescued a miniature Casio keyboard from the bin. The battery cover departed years ago but it still plays in a tinkly-tonkly sort of way and I will keep that on the desk at work next to the printer to make strange electronic noises on when everything gets too corporate. I'm in trouble for not having my photo taken for the staff notice board, and I feel a miniature electronica song coming on as we speak.
There are large quantities of coins of obsolete denominations too. I wonder where they came from? I'm sure we never went to half those countries. There seem to be at least two in the bottom of every drawer. Maybe an un-burglar has been placing them there in a fit of misplaced generosity.
And it is finally time to throw away the storm-tossed false teeth I found on the beach at Arisaig in Scotland. What a terrible loss they will be!

Hide Food

The tub of hide food was working wonders on the scruffy old suitcase and I idly wondered if it would do the same for my face.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Set List

That was a nice rehearsal. We sat round and played through the set which will go like this (I think):

Lonesome Country Boy
Pioneer Town
Northbound Train (possibly)
Oh Boy
Two Strings to Your Bow
My Black Rose
Footsteps at My Door
Freight Train

The guys played very sweetly tonight and Paul went off with about 25 wine glasses that I will no longer need- the parties will have to relocate to their house in future!
I have to practice these songs a bit myself- they work on autopilot but if I get distracted I can't remember what the b*ggery I'm doing- I don't even play half these chords any more and my fingers just shrug their shoulders and look the other way when I ask them to be sensible.
Roll on Friday! 'S gonna be fun!
Shall I bring some vinyl albums down?

Moving and Silence

After a silly trip to the University of the East (I got the wrong day for the meeting!) I hared home to do what I'd cancelled in order to go to the phantom meeting- taking Offsprog 1 to Brighton to move in to her student digs. It's a typical Brighton student house- white cardboard with damp problems- and I gulped at the memory of trying to unstick my envelopes before I used them (that wet air had licked them and sticked them before I got there) and pulling on soggy clothes in the morning.
Oh well.
We struggled up the gloomy stairs with collapsing boxes and clanking bags of pans trying to imagine the place to life.
I cried all the way back from Leeds when I took her there last year, but I do understand the teenagers' need to Move On and have a life of their own. The cats think I have disposed of her in some sinister way and they are giving me accusing looks. Offsprog 2 will have to get used to missing her all over again. There will be no freshly-baked cakes in the kitchen and no burst flour bags and sticky sugar bags decorating the worktops.
She has left so much stuff behind that I will have to make another trip next week.
I'm just waiting for Tony trumpet and Paul Sax- we are rehearsing here tonight which will put the frighteners on poor Judith next door I'm afraid. She makes un-noise; she's a manufacturer of silence: silent looks (perhaps she's a secret cat) silent gardening punctuated by the faintest of rustles, and silent arrival and departure in her silent car.
How does she do it?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Adventure of the Pink Night-cap with Little Yellow Teddies On It

When I was a nipper of nine and Big Bruv was eight, our American Granny made us pyjama-and-nigh-cap sets. Mine was made of pink viyella with little yellow teddies, and his was pale blue viyella with even paler blue ducklings.
Long after I'd grown out of the pyjamas, I kept the night cap, and I took it with me to Bellingham International Camp when I was a seventeen-year-old sixth former, where I fell in love with Norwegians, buried pork pies in the sand at Bamburgh (third packed lunch in a row. Ugh, fiendish things!), danced at the disco and had a whale of a time. The camp was run in a state boarding school in the wilds of Northumberland and was attended by Belgians (or Belgiums, as we knew them), Norwegian, French, German and English kids.
When I got home, I realised to my horror that I hadn't got my night cap any more and I missed it sorely all year.
I imagined the boarders wearing it, tearing it and binning it.
Imagine my joy when I went back the next year, and there it was in a cardboard box, having tempted no-one with its potential. So here it is, a symbol of raggeddy fortitude and loyalty, and possibly the subject of the most boring and pointless blog posting you will read all year!

Saturday, September 12, 2009


7.35 p.m. I have made a cup of coffee and gone upstairs
7.38 p.m. I've just realised I've left my coffee downstairs! I'd better go and get it!!!
7.42 p.m. Back upstairs again!!
7.45 p.m. Oh no!!!! I went down to get the coffee and forgot to bring it upstairs again!!!! Silly me!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Goodbye Banjo

The banjo went off to it's new daddy today. I've waved goodbye to half of my musical instruments and it's almost become a routine now. the new house is not big enough for wardrobes, so that's going too (currently priced 99p!). There is s steady flow of The Past out of the house and on to eBay or into the local charity shops.
It will be a pity not to have a garden. The 50 pence raspberry plants I bought from Woolworths (also R.I.P) ten years ago that have become excellent croppers will have to stay, as will the silver birch Offsprog 1 grew from the seed of an old birch in a former garden. And the mulberry bush, which I won't be going round any more.
It's not so hard to chuck out every single schoolbook that the Offsprogs have ever had (I'm keeping some, but not maths with the squared paper and the red biro ticks and crosses).
The paperwork from all the old music projects, which I still refer to, is going into storage along with two or three bits of furniture.
But the books.. now that's a hard one.

Poetry Cafe Last Night

Razz runs two nights in London, one in the Poetry Cafe in Betterton Street in Covent Garden, the other in Tottenham at Chances on the High Road.
I was invited to play a floor spot last night, which was a welcome relief from the week's packing and clearing. On the way, I went to Rough Trade East to try to stock them up with copies of Suburban Pastoral and was just walking in their door with my guitar when I realised I was queue-jumping and that the shop had been given over to a gig by some trendy band or other. So I had to abandon those plans and wait till another day. It was funny to experience the excited rustling of the people waiting outside, some of whom obviously thought I was The Band (or at least, With The Band!).
The Poetry Cafe is a snug little caff with blond floorboards and quirky tables and chairs recycled, I think, from bookshops. One of the chairs had 'Puffin Books' stencilled on its back. There are free postcards so you can send a friend a poem.
Many of the poets last night had had brushes with mental health issues, and a lot of the poetry was very moving. There was a guy there who was autistic and who sang a song about how people see him: 'You laugh at me because I'm different, I laugh at you because you're all the same'. I admired him for performing like this as I have a nephew who is autistic. He also had a really good singing voice.
Sybil was there, with a clarinettist whose playing swooped around her terrifyingly perceptive poetry and took it to another level entirely. Her poems are anger-driven dramas, darkly funny, like opening a bottle of pent-up truth and watching a Genii explode into the room and curl around the rafters malevolently.
It's quite shocking to be able to have a perfectly normal chat with her afterwards.
Ingrid Andrew read some of her warm-hearted poetry and played a song, and The Children (a very English-sounding duo whose music I really like) premiered a song based on an Old Testament story. Amorel, the singer, has a hugely powerful voice that she uses subtly and rhythmically. I think she's the best female singer I've heard this year, and I've heard a lot!
In between this, there were poets debuting their new poems, and Razz held the lot together good-naturedly with his own music and poetry.
Oh yes.. I played too!

Thursday, September 10, 2009


I'm sitting having a rest during all the packing up of the house.
I have been struck by a wave of incredible sadness.

Pussy-bow Ties and Frilled Blouses

No, Monsoon, no!
We remember Margaret Thatcher and our feelings have not cooled in the interim.

Singalonga Central Heating

After a fitful sleep, I woke up singing again this morning. 'Why-oh-why?' I wondered, as one does.
I now have the answer.
I was singing along to the hum of the central heating.
I must get my guitar tuner out and see what note it is!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Helen and the Horns

Well, we had a rehearsal on Monday and it all seemed to go well... we were at Terminal Studios in South London where I was tempted to buy fluorescent gaffa tape- yellow, pink or orange- but decided to defer the pleasure until another time.
We were in a massive rock-star type room with mirrors so we could see just how old, knackered and silly we looked but that didn't matter 'cos the music flowed (apart from the occasional forgotten lyric and missed cue).
It was nice to be in a bunch again, just like four lost bananas, and we have a decent sized set, although Tony Trumpet and Paul Sax are coming round mine next Monday to polish things up a bit.
I really feel like a proper musician again, although the dastardly security guards at the University of the East (enemy? Academics!) managed to hold me up for half an hour over parking issues and I missed my Logic Audio training which makes me seem really rude even though it was their fault, not mine. My favourite fantasy is to stick these types in front of 35 students for three hours and see how much they like it. No, make that fifty, give them a real taste of the job. Then perhaps they could mark 50 2000-word essays when they get home. That goes for the woman who reported me sick and told me I had swine flu and had to report it (I didn't, I had something else) and who was so busy doing that she prevented me from filling out the forms so I could make a demo DVD of the song writing projects I've done to show to funders so I can do more.
Bitter, moi?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Stockport: the allotment gig

After Sheffield, we drove over to Stockport, through Glossop, a town of two-up, two-down houses and posh little shops, and through the Peaks, strangely claustrophobic deep-dimpled hills that are covered in densely grassed and heathery vegetation and lidded with grey clouds.
Adrian was waiting for us outside the Blue Cat, and he directed us to the magical world of allotmentdom. Each plot was a flower and vegetable portrait of its owner: some were neat and tidy with everything growing in lines and squares, and some were wild and bushy, with raspberries peeking out from the tousled weeds and calling 'Help!' in weak voices.
There was a wide grassy strip down the middle that was to be the source of the action.
Adrian had already lined up florist's buckets full of yellow, orange and red dahlias to give away. The stage was backed by banana trees whose leaves had been shredded into ferny shapes by the high winds earlier in the week. Orange-ribbed chard grew down one side of the 'stage', and it was fronted by a mass of pink and orange dahlias.
We met Brian, Adrian's friend who made us tea in his camper van and played tea-chest bass for Martin after his own busking set. The teenagers sat on bales of compressed yellow straw which had been lined up in front of the stage. Food appeared, and people appeared with it, and started to eat it.
It was cold and breezy, but jolly and warm-spirited. Eliza P came with her partner, and they had wisely brought a flask of hot coffee. My fingers were so chilly when I played that I resolved to write special songs for future cold-finger days. It was lovely to play and sing amongst all those flowers and teenagers, who weren't even sulking (the teenagers, not the flowers), Everyone was really friendly and Martin was on form, getting a gaggle of teenagers at the back to take their hands out of their pockets, who then had to stand there for an hour with their arms hanging awkwardly beside them, in case he noticed them putting them back in their pockets again! One father had his children piled up on him as he stood there, and looked like a sort of human totem-pole. People won prizes- bunches of flowers and boxes of vegetables and home-made chutney and jam.
Adrian spends a year making sure the allotments are prepared for this one afternoon, and it was a completely unique experience in a beautiful environment.
The photo in the last posting was sent by Adrian and I'll upload some of my own tomorrow.

Sunday, September 06, 2009


What a brilliant gig! It was the crowd, it was the venue, it was the host...
The Shakespeare was absolutely packed, and the audience was one of the best ever- sometimes it's hard to be the support act because people have come to see the headliner and talk all the way though your set. This night was completely different- it was an audience who were interested in giving a chance to someone they hadn't heard before, and they were lovely;They listened all the way through and let me feel that I could build things up song by song. Tristan and Alistair were there, and other people from the guitar and songwriting weekends.
Martin went down an absolute storm, playing for two and a half hours, and had everyone singing along to Sweet Saviour, and I have to say the audience were in fine voice that night too. David Lelievre was a really good host, transporting us around calmly and kindly.
And the accommodation! Hardwick House is a b'n'b on a hill overlooking Sheffield, and it's stuffed with arty finds, comfortable beds with crackling cotton sheets, giant baths with huge gold taps and a fantastic air of hospitality. It's huge and seems to have endless floors above and below ground, and it's almost like being let loose in your favourite quirky museum or a wunderkammer for passing travellers!
The Stockport allotment... that will have to wait till I get home as I have some wonderful pictures: it was a very sweet and magical afternoon...

Thursday, September 03, 2009


Knit One, Unpick Three

Whisky-wow-wow, I spent part of yesterday in the studios at the University of the East learning how to D.I. a guitar and route it into Logic Audio, and the other part sitting at a stall at the Open Day, looking encouragingly at prospective students. This did not work, and when I got home I did my 'encouraging look' in the mirror and realised what a scary person I actually am!
I missed most of Shooting Stars by dawdling around when I got back, but it's giving me much needed belly-laughs at the moment, along with the correspondence between the spirited members of the Desperado Housewives.
I'm getting into gear now for the weekend: a gig in Sheffield tomorrow at the Shakespeare with Martin, then one at Adrian's allotment in Stockport (yes, I will definitely take my camera!) and then one in Wakefield at Henry Boon's Yard Bar. Somewhere in between all that I have to finish the knitted letter 'H' for the knitted poem, which I had to unpull as I got so fascinated by Wallander on BBC 4.
I don't normally watch TV, but all this shifting of
stuff from the loft,
the shed,
under the bed,
over my head,
Aunts who are dead
Blue, white and red,
Scruffy old ted
Dresses I wed
Great Uncle Ned
That's what I said
is knackering
and I have to
Just Sit For a While.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Praise the Lord, as they say, the Council Skip has been over the road today and I've spent the morning loading it with broken plant pots, redundant paint tins, old doormats and the harmonium, which McDad spent every Sunday evening trying to repair, with no success. It had that memory all wrapped up in it, but practicality tells me that if McDad couldn't fix it after all those years, perhaps it was unfixable.
It has moved house with me four times and still only works on one side so you have to frantically pedal with one foot to get a wheezy chord or two out of it.
Actually, the harmonium went beside the skip, not in it, as I hoped someone might take it (and I think they have). The dustmen had fun quipping about busking and lots of passers-by stopped for a look, so it had its moment of glory even though Freecyclists, friends and various studios hadn't wanted it.
Council skip day is fun- all the hidden neighbours are out, throwing away their knackered clothes racks, unwanted scatter cushions and broken hobbies; the dustman sits on a discarded chair, rifling through CDs in a carrier bag before throwing them in the skip in disgust and disappointment.
As I dumped an old cobwebby doormat, he offered me a dirty white plastic double telephone socket adaptor, recoiling in disbelief when I told him I didn't want it, as though he'd offered me a pure gold ingot!
As one skip fills, another creeps down the street on its lorry; a white van circles, passing every ten minutes in search of carrion.
Offloading these things is amazingly therapeutic!