Monday, September 30, 2013

9 o'clock

It's 9 o'clock and I'm still working (first email sent at 8 a.m.)
All would be fine except both on Friday and today the Northern Line, that most frail and elderly of tubes, conked out. On Friday I had to improvise by taking a bus to the Piccadilly Line and hopping on a tube, travel time Barnet-Stratford 2 hours; today I had to get on a bus at Archway (I know this means nothing to non-Londoners), travel time Harrow-Barnet 2 hours.
Good book that made Friday tolerable: A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka (finished it)
Good book that made Monday tolerable: The Subversive Stitch: embroidery and the making of the feminine by Rozsika Parker (started it).
Good news that made the day tolerable: Offsprog One's magazine, Hidden Eggs, looks like it might happen. It has been slow progress, but she's doing it!
Good photo of Offsprog Two's embroidered Nick Cave Portrait:
But really, Northern Line- get a grip!

Expertise

Over the years, my key area of expertise (note the jargon) is:
'To Still Deliver a Lecture Even Though the Equipment Doesn't Work'.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sassafras And Moonshine: The Songs Of Laura Nyro

So the Powerpoint for tomorrow got finished and printed; over to housework and ironing for a spell, and listening.
I was sent this early last week; its an Ace compilation and I was not familiar with Laura Nyro's songs.
My head was in a different place and at first I thought this was Laura Nyro herself.
I couldn't work out why she hopped from style to style... and what a versatile singer!
Finally, seated at the table in front of the computer, I realised that this is a compilation of lots of different artists covering her songs.
It's actually really good: Mama Cass is here, Thelma Houston, the Staples Singers, the Supremes.
Some of the tracks veer dangerously close to smoochy jazz like the one that I'm listening to, Laura Zakian's version of Billy's Blues. But Bobbie Gentry's Wedding Bell Blues is a perfect snapshot of the era in which it was recorded and brought about a strange feeling of nostalgia for something that wasn't on my radar at all back then.
I've grafted today, and this is the perfect end of the Sunday afternoon listening experience.
Oh yes it is!

Three Pens

I have just taken three pens out of my bag.
Why?
At least six students turned up to a lecture last week with nothing to write with and nothing to write on.
Because I needed everyone in the lecture to write down information that I was giving out, I Lent Pens.
No More Mrs Penlending Guy!
A few years ago I noticed a tendency (reported here) for students to come to my office for a tutorial with a sad, scuffed, bendy, almost-empty multi-pack pen, and leave with one of my fave pen-fellers.
I took to only having the latest sadscuffedbendyalmost-emptymulti-pack exchange-pen in view, and the phenomenon abruptly ceased.
The three pens are safe.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Word

Fave sentence so far. 'What does 'meaning' mean?

Halfway Through

Halfway through lecture number one. It's time for lunch and brain respite from the data research thing: bibliographies have to be right but all my sources give different publication dates. We tell the students how unreliable the internet is- and it is!

Research Weekend

For some unfathomable reasons (or several fathomable ones) my lecturing work is very much front-loaded this semester.
This weekend I have three lectures to research and write for next week, as well as some transcription for the Music, Gender, Differenz conference in Vienna that I am going to in two weeks (with my fingers tightly crossed that the University of the East will pay my expenses!).
Par for the course, one of the interviews that I did in Glasgow didn't record and I am extremely grateful to Laura for filling out an email version of her interview because I'd never have remembered it all.
I also had the pleasure of re-interviewing Zillah Ashworth this week, who is very much a driving force behind the band Rubella Ballet. We sat in her garden and talked in the autumn sunshine; little apples decorated little apple trees and spiders busied themselves amongst dusty grey curtains of seasonal webs that festooned bushes and plants. Sid, Zillah's partner, brought out the tea and cakes, and we talked about anarcho punk, and Poly Styrene who was Zillah's close friend.
So... first lecture: Authenticity. Adorno and Benjamin decorated by thoughts from Middleton and Moore... and Theberge and yes what the heck, one of my fave guys Baudrillard (sounds like a brand of duck, I think).
I will also do a bit of playing. I have had a fiendish cold this week and have mostly been controlled by chemicals. There's no way I can sing but I don't want to forget what a guitar feels like.
Naturally, the week has contained more than its fair share of adverse experiences in spite of my attempts to plan for disaster, think laterally and slither past conflict. I shan't dwell on those; I have secret plans to thwart the problems. They don't call me Boudicca for nothing!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Chewing Gum Painter

Does anyone have contact details for Ben Wilson?
If so can you let me know helen_mccookerybook@yahoo.co.uk

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Monday, September 23, 2013

Helen and the Horns Compilation and Launch

After a lot of negotiating, the Helen and the Horns Peel sessions are due to be released in November and we are playing a launch gig to celebrate on Sunday 8th December at the Lexington in King's Cross.
At last, an archive of our BBC stuff!
I will set up a Facebook page with ticket details later this week.
Meanwhile if you are interested in updates you might want to follow this Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Helen-McCookerybook/346530963905

Pretend Babies

From the bus, Offsprog One and myself watched a huddle of teenage girls (and one boy) walking through Whetstone with their fake babies.
Fake babies are given to teenage girls to put them off becoming pregnant just for fun (!).
They cry 24 hours a day at intermittent moments, and need to be soothed.
The girls looked rather embarrassed. The girls had brown skin and the babies had pink skin.
One baby was in a pushchair, and the teenage boy was pushing that; he looked terribly proud.
When Offsprog Two's class had pretend babies, one of her friends put it in the cupboard until it was time to give it back to the school.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Rare Red Squirrels And Other Wildlife

I've been absent for a while... resting up before the University terms begin, researching.
And looking at red squirrels.
In between interviews last week, Offsprog One and myself went to a small garden on a hillside in Perthshire that was planted with  a huge variety of trees and mountain plants, all clinging to a steep hill that fell downwards from a smallish stately home.
We got there early, before the tourists, and a gardener was wandering around with a large sack full of what turned out to be nuts. She told us she was feeding the squirrels and if we sat quietly underneath a huge, corky-barked redwood, we might see some.
We sat and tried not to rustle. We could hear layers of birdsong from clouds of little birds- bullfinches, coal tits, wrens, pigeons: almost rainforest-like. A highland rainwood, perhaps: it was much too small to be called a forest. Gummy-nosed cows lined the fence, looking for attention.
We sat.
Out of the corner of my eye, a tiny reddish-brown animal streaked from one bush to the next, behind us; then it streaked closer and in less than a second it was up on the wooden platform and had snatched a nut. It was tiny and rusty and it looked at us out of one huge eye as it held the nut in its paws and chewed at lightning speed.
We shouldn't have moved to get our cameras. It bolted off into the undergrowth and the little birds swooped down to peck at the debris left behind.
We waited longer but no-one else came along so we picked our way through the woods, stopping to look at eccentric fungi and seed pods. I thought I saw a big-guy squirrel whizz past under a rhododendron but I couldn't be sure.
The woods were magical; giant frail looking purple croci were in flower and tropaeolum festooned the shrubs with dripping red flowers.
At the end of the walk we came upon an elderly couple who appeared to be leaving. I went out to the car park to collect more film for my camera (it was an analogue day). They were banging car doors and opening the boot, and were being completely ignored by three red squirrels who were sitting gobbling nuts from a box on a platform next to the car park.
I had no film in the camera and at that point my ever-unreliable iPhone (cheers, Mackintosh!) declined to allow me to use its camera. I think Offsprog One got some photos; they ran off into the ferns and we climbed into the car, gobsmacked at seeing so many of them in one sitting.
As we drove down the road, a small squirrel was burying a nut in the grass. It jumped up and ran down the road at a hundred miles an hour, legs jabbing out sideways as it ran, before finally disappearing into a copse.
And then I almost ran over a partridge on my right while trying not to run over three partridges on my left. They were crossing the road to enter a furrowed field, where a line of about fifteen partridges stood in their greige uniforms, necks outstretched and silly beaks aloft, showing us how good they were at lining up.

It was almost like entering a parallel universe where red squirrels are not rare. You can imagine them hiding from humans and snickering into their little fur hands as humans try to find them.
We were ready for anything after that. Little cinema restored and running in Aberfeldy? Check! Small press and tweed shop run by Irish musician? Check! Fallen tree with boulders grasped in its desperate roots? Check!
So now on Saturday night I sit working as I do on many Saturday nights. Teaching begins next week. London normality floods in to replace a beautifully warm summer punctuated with conferences, writing, music, drawing, research and a short but lovely holiday with Martin. I have moved an Offsprog from one house to another and suffered the familiar groaning muscles; taken the other away for a few days. I have had a gruesome operation on my jaw and accompanied McMum on a similar excursion.
Life is returning to the urban, but I have made new friends and now believe that red squirrels are the new fairies at the bottom of the garden.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Chillin'

Literally. It's cold in this hotel room!
This afternoon I travelled to a small border town to interview an extraordinary woman, a pioneer in electronic composition.
I have about twelve interviews to transcribe; I reckon it's going to be a rainy autumn, you see, and I will sit and tap away at the outer while the rain drums away on the window panes.
Tomorrow morning I am going to interview a young woman who has just graduated and who wants to be a sound engineer.
I was going to drop in at Manchester on my way back to do another interview but I think I'll be tired. It's a long drive. Meanwhile, I am massively irritated by this iPad, which will not let me retrieve messages from work. I hope there is an Internet cafe in Glasgow somewhere so I can sit and delve into my job for an hour or so. It all starts up again next week and I need to keep in touch.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Glasgow Musicians

I am going to be interviewing some very interesting women over the next couple of days... I have prepared some questions and I'm hoping they are the right ones!
Watch this space...

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Little London Studios

Last weekend I met up with Terri Harris, who runs Little London Studios in Hastings. I am listening to her show on wickedspinsradio.org which goes out on a Saturday evening. She has been playing parts of an interview with Mitch Mitchell, who used to play drums for Jimi Hendrix. The original interview went on for nearly two hours and was full of little gems, like Mitch's love of tap-dancing.
Interspersed with the interview Hendrix tracks are being played- and The Temptations' Papa Was A Rolling Stone. It's an eclectic show and good fun.
Terri is setting up an analogue room and would love to hear from anyone who has analogue equipment that they want to pass on to a good home. the studio website is littlelondonstudios.com
And don't forget, my papa was a rolling pin.

Joke

Celebrating your toddler's graduation to full walking mode?
That's the Last Night of the Prams.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Girl-for-Boy

If it's not being talked about already around editorial tables, I'm guessing it soon will be: girl-for-boy magazines, full of revealing pictures of attractive women with coded and titillating bylines.
As Nuts and company drift off the shelves due to their deserved attention from feminists, Hello and OK will up the nudity ante and start to include subjects that are targeted at surreptitious male readers.
Eventually, these titles will advertise themselves using photographs of cosily snuggling male/female partners in their undies, smiling at each other as they turn the pages.
'Have-at-thee, feminists!', the publishers will snicker.
Kate Moss and Helena Christensen will walk slimly and elegantly into the sunset, to be replaced by 17-year-old models with orange tans, bouncing boobies and dyed blonde hair who enjoy being naked and don't see what problem those hairy-legged banshees have with it all.
It must be because they're all ugly, mustn't it?

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

No More Free Books For Barnet

A letter in the local newspaper said that the free bookshop in Barnet (where I have been 'shopping' regularly alongside a host of other 'customers' from tiny children to ancient mariners) has closed down due to pressure from other shops in the shopping centre, who claimed it was an eyesore that lowered the tone of Barnet town centre.
Well, well, well.
This is a terrible shame. One of the men who ran it was truly awful, but the shop was irresistible and most of the people who worked there, all volunteers, were lovely. It was always busy, teeming with people, and I came away with some gems of books- a hagiographic Burl Ives biography complete with songs, for instance, and several really useful academic books.
I do hope that Waterstone's Bookshop wasn't party to the complaints. Situated just a few doors away, the staff there could maybe have felt that the free bookshop challenged their potential to make money.
However, from my point of view the opposite was true.
In a similar fashion to the way mp3 piracy actually leads to increased legitimate sales of music, I've become much more local-aware and book-aware since the advent of the free bookshop.
Instead of ordering all the birthday-present books from Amazon at the cheapest price possible, I went to the local Waterstone's and spent the money there, bringing back the books in a bag rather than having them shoved through the door in a cardboard sleeve by the letterbox-shy postman.
A good bookshop can be a gathering-place; I was watching a feature on the Ibis bookshop in Banstead, which is trying to survive by selling shares for £100. An elderly lady who had been relaxing in a comfy chair pointed out that people like her need high street shops. 'I haven't got the Internet', she said.
People like me need high street shops too. All those empty, greedy, soul-less estate agents and phone shops with desperate staff on commission bleed the life out of small towns; the charity shops, by comparison, are warm-hearted places with real people staffing them and real customers buying things. They are a quiet little revolution, recycling in a profligate world and making money for people who need it desperately.
Think again, Barnet retailers. There is room in the world for everyone!

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Top of the Pops

Oh how wonderful it would have been to go dressed colourfully and prepared to dance enthusiastically! Rather coyly, I was aged between 16-25 at the date on the postmark.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

At The Lantern


Melancholy Mama

Yesterday I took Offsprog Two and a carful (or several carfuls by the time we moved from house to house in Brighton) of stuff to her new student house.
She has dipped intermittently into being at home this summer; but she has still been around a lot.
Being a mum has something of the nature of a piece of elastic about : you stretch from being 'home' to not being so and you have to bless the flying from the nest, while at the same time regretting it.
Spring comes around for one life and autumn comes around for another and the million-towel-a-day daughter has flown off again; another one circles in the firmament, wondering what to do next.
Meanwhile, the freezer always has soup in it, and the beds always have clean duvets.
I must put motherhood in a cupboard for a while, and dust off the academic and musician persona ready for a new term and a new role.

The Hanging Gardens of Camden Lock


Music


I'm listening to David Byrne and St Vincent and wishing I'd been at their five-star Roundhouse concert.
Is it just me or do they sound uncommonly like the wonderful 1980s big band The Happy End?
And is it just me or is it a weird coincidence (or not) that Jake Bugg (whose manager formerly managed The Daintees) has a song called Trouble Town, and the Daintees themselves released a song called Trouble Town about 20 years ago? And do I hear a lot of Daintees- like rhythms in the young chap's repertoire?
Hmmm.