The plane bumped and lurched into Shannon Airport on Monday narrowly missing the tornado that had been forecast (it didn't arrive, thankfully); I was rustling with papers ready for the Riot Grrrl Symposium at the University of Limerick.
Tuesday broke with glorious sunshine, and the room filled with a very interesting-looking bunch of people. The first speaker was Claire Sedgwick, and she talked about the importance of Zines to feminist discourse from a historical perspective; Tiffany Naiman presented a paper on Courtney Love's Somebody Kill Me and its ethical repercussions; and Gretchen Larsen presented a paper on groupies (one of the most under-researched subjects in the universe of academia: it will be interesting to see what she has concluded when her research is finished). My paper was on the influence of reggae on the sounds of female punk bands, and the Julia Downes presented research into 'all-girl' radicalism.
After the papers had been presented I was struck by just how different things had been for girls and women in punk bands. Riot Grrrl was bristling with manifestoes and a network of communication through letters, zines and music, all centred on how young women felt about themselves in relation to family, society, the media and politics.
Our experience was infinitely more raw and clumsy; I simply can't imagine how it must have felt to be part of something that women did internationally rather than to reside in a corner of punk. There were women's music groups all over the UK (and Europe, and the USA) back in the 1970s but I was put off by the cliqueyness, which simply doesn't raise it's head in the rosy histories of the moment. I recall a deeply upset older woman musician being told at a Women's Meeting that one of the group was physically repulsed by her because of her age. Some support network that was!
I'm sure it wasn't the same everywhere, and the women's bands in Brighton played alongside everyone else. But there seemed to be an awful lot of rules and that was what I thought I was escaping from by playing music in the first place.
So this was all very interesting.
Afterwards, the all-female group Girl in a Coma did a live set, interspersed with a Q&A session run by Eoin Devereux, the academic who had very kindly invited me to speak. It was interesting and a relaxing way to spend the afternoon before Michael whisked me off the the airport with much political discussion and I hopped on a plane back to Heathrow.
I'm hoping to get some photos and I will post them when I do.
Oh and on the plane, I met an old chap who talked all the way back to England. Having had hypnotherapy to deal with my fear of flying, I normally go into a trance. This was awkward, especially the bit when we got back to Heathrow early and circled about. The chap was sitting in the window seat and I had to look past his face as he talked, and see beyond him through the porthole the ground and houses directly below, as the plane tipped sideways. It makes my feet burn even just to think of it. Talk about inner screaming!
So the next day, after a morning of tutorials and trying to help an old lady on the bus by making a phone call for her to ask for someone to meet her off the bus ('NO! That's NOT WHAT I WANTED YOU TO DO!!!' she yelled aggressively when I'd finished) I headed down to trendy Hoxton for Songlab, our student songwriters night.
When I got there, the owner of the venue said he had double-booked us with a screening of a documentary about gypsy jazz.
The day started to feel surreal.
In the end, it all blended together in a casual and relaxed way; I sat in the corner with one of the students listening to his stuff, while the screening went ahead, and then the film-makers hung about and listened to the music. If you're interested in what we do, take a look at our Facebook page, Songlab UEL.
The week continued to be busy... but I'm going to take a break now.
Tomorrow at 1 p.m. I am playing at David's record store in Letchworth, a free event for Record Store Day and will probably be playing the first political song I've written for ages, Big Brother Is Watching You which is here, on Reverbnation: www.reverbnation.com/helenmccookerybook