Saturday, May 31, 2014

Boring Adventures

I was in Edinburgh and I needed a new battery for my watch for the songwriting workshop I was to be doing. You can't hoick your iPhone out to check the time; you need to surreptitiously glance at your wrist, and my wind-up watch had given up the ghost. An old watch was back in service.
The first jewellers had the security gate half open- but also half closed, so I went to the next one.
Yes Madam, well send it away and get it back to you tomorrow.
No. So I walked round the block and went back to the first one.
Yes, they could do it on the spot.
But no, they didn't have a battery.
Next morning in Ayr I had time to kill and I trundled my suitcase into town. On the way I noticed that my soft guitar case had broken. I wondered if there was a music shop and just as I wondered, a music shop appeared on the corner of the street. Ayr Guitars (ho ho) was closed, to I went to the Post Office to send a CD off to be reviewed. Inside the Post Office was a vinyl shop, much to my surprise, and I got talking to the owner, who promotes gigs about the area. I left him a CD; he told me where the jewellers were and I trundled back down the street.
The first jeweller I passed changed the battery- but then told me he couldn't change my £20 note. So I had to go to the cashpoint and get a tenner out, then I had to go to Greggs to buy a roll to change the tenner into a fiver, and then back to the shop to pay the jeweller for the battery.
By this time Ayr Guitars was open and I managed to get a new soft guitar case and leave the old one there to be thrown away.
The taxi that took me to work at the University was a welcome luxury.
I recognise you from January, said the taxi driver. You're the lady who stays at the Carrick Lodge Hotel.
A very ordinary sequence of events with some extraordinary minutiae embedded within. I can't work out which were surreal and which were not.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Whitley Bay

It's been a relaxing afternoon after working today; Whitley Bay has some fab charity shops and the sun is shining.
Yesterday I said a sad goodbye to my job at the University of Scotland, where my tenure as External Examiner has come to an end. I have loved it, and the course team up there who are so capable and dedicated.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


I've been on an awful lot of trains over the past couple of days, and been doing an awful lot of reading.
Interesting academic reading that's difficult to digest unless you're Ian position of having to concentrate, without distractions and Doritos.
Some of it has annoyed me; writers with authoritative voices aren't immune from writing rubbish, or to be academic about it, making their readers feel that what they have written does not engage them completely!
I have just read an article about Demo and Mod music, the bleeps coded music that is traded through an Internet subculture. The writer compares it to punk. Oh deary me.
That's akin to comparing moles with sandpaper.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Easy Listening

I have been reading about Stelios wanting to open an easySupermarket opposite East Croydon Station.
A few years ago one of the Universities that I work for was approached by Stelios regarding an easyRecordLabel.
Reader, I confess that I checked the calendar in my diary to see if it was April 1st, but it wasn't.
Unbelievable as it may seem, the idea wasn't put to bed: so watch this space!

Monday, May 26, 2014


The snails are out, dancing, singing.
It's cold and damp; rain alternately drifts and thrashes and the rats, birds and squirrels are huddled in their nests because they don't like it.
'Hooray!' beam the snails with Farage-like bonhomie. 'Out to play!'.
Horns erect, they barge across the concrete paving towards the tender Hosta plant, charging up the plastic pot and baulking at the gravel around its roots.
Others pose on the edges of clay plant-pots, arms would be akimbo if they had them, soaking up the humid breeze that caresses their juicy grey and yellow bodies.
Snail kittens hatch, their frail snail-shells gradually hardening in the cool air. They snuggle in gritty corners, under bricks and between the bristles of the yard-brush. Soon they will make their way to young and tender shoots to eat their first meal.
Can you hear them singing their clumsy snail song?
'Tra-la!', they honk in voices we can't hear, 'It's our world, it's our world it's OURS!!'.
I watch from the kitchen window.
Could they be right?

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Housework and Workwork

Two hours of External Examining done this morning; time for a spot of housework to clear the channels and then a bit more reading and listening later.
I have come back from tour with an addiction to Doritos.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Free Anarchy Skiffle Download

Free download of my own fave track.
The album features Martin Stephenson on guitar and ukulele, Jim Hornsby on Dobro (featured here) and guitar, John Cavener on double bass and Colin Mee on knobs, and all four on BVs.
Produced by Martin Stephenson, and as Colin says, 'C*ck on!'
Take a listen to the rest of the tracks while you're there!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Connecting The Turntable Up

I can't believe it, but I actually finished the marking yesterday evening. I think this may be connected to the huge thunderstorm that happened while I was doing it- an electric surge powered me up to superhuman levels.
The fact that I didn't even notice the thunderstorm due to wearing ear-protectors to aid my concentration is beside the point.
Today has been a rest day- or rather a bits'n'pieces day. I've gazed at car prices. My car is ready to move on but second-hand car prices are just out of reach at the moment. I've put a hold on my gas bill to stop two companies charging me at once (Ovo isn't as shiny as they'd like us to believe). I've sent passport and driving licence photos all over the place, because nobody believes who you are any more. I've been for a long walk with Offsprog One and had lunch with her in a barn. I sorted out the strange look of the Bandcamp page too.
And I've connected up the speakers to the turntable but getting the vinyl out is a process of excavation that I don't feel up to at the moment. But it works! They are funny speakers, with a flat sound for mixing, but I don't mind that because any vinyl is better than no vinyl.
And I did another nice thing this week- making music with Gina Birch: just adding some bits to her tracks for her to deconstruct. The music is fab- at least one of the tracks sounds to me as though it is entirely finished. Some of what I've done is melody, some little harmonies and on Wednesday, beats and a bass-line. Fun- and I've got the beat bug again.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Anarchy Skiffle Album Now Available On Bandcamp

The Anarchy Skiffle album is now on Bandcamp to listen to and/or download. Features Helen McCookerybook, Martin G Stephenson Jim Hornsby  and John Cavener. recorded by Colin Mee and Mark Lough and produced by Martin Stephenson
Signed CDs also available!
(it's not 22 tracks, it's 11 - I don't know why it says that- will have to fix it tomorrow.)

Photo by Jane Cooper

Monday, May 19, 2014

Cupcakes and Coding

We were walking through Hoxton, through a tide of young bearded men, many with bikes.
We fantasised about an app they have on their laptops that repels females by emitting an almost inaudible repelling-signal.
In the mating season, they switch it off until the business is done, aiming to attract young women who love coding- but who also bake cupcakes.
Feminists, perhaps (it's very trendy to be one of those).
Later in life, they will settle down with the perhaps-feminists in the hope that they'll forget about the coding bit and just make cupcakes; and the beardy-mans will go out hunting, slaying startups with their mighty htmls!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Black Swan in Reading

I tried to photograph the black swan in Reading but it didn't want to know: it turned its back on me and even asking its white pals to send it over didn't work.
The breakfast in the hotel cost a horrifying £15.95. Just across the road, a stuffed cafe was selling breakfast for £3.51.
Crazy prices in every way.
We drove to Brighton, the running gags running away with us: Chris's pride in parsimony, Martin's black curly wig, a gift from June, scaring the yummy mummies on the phone in their Minis, and John and Kate's dinner lady friend who stuttered for ages trying to say 'Chipolatas' before eventually settling on 'Those little sausages'.
The Haunt in Brighton was our last destination. Offsprog One played there with her band Royal Limp; at first sight it seemed scruffy and dead but as the band sound-checked, the sound engineer brought it to life because he took such care over what he was doing. We'd eaten chips on the beach; the town was packed with lobster-coloured tourists.
What a lovely last gig. Peter and Jonathan and Jill, Steph and Sara and lots of Daintees mates came down. Last time for the punky skiffle set, then I went up to the closed-off balcony and danced my socks off to 'I Can See'; Sara, who is a pal from years ago, came up too and we watched from above.
The encore was 'Rain', sung by the whole audience; the load-up for the last time, hugs to Mike and June, back in the bus for the last time and home to sleep it all off.
Marking today-fifty essays to get through this week.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

John from El Cid- Sartorial Style, Seventies Chic

John drums for El Cid, the band Phoebe Stephenson plays in.

Weirdness in Birmingham

Well we haven't finished the tour yet; is this tempting fate?
But Birmingham has to take the biscuit for a weird experience.
We were booked into the city's worst hotel, the Paragon, which featured a hole in the bath in Chris's room, an electric socket falling off the wall and serious damp issues in John and Kate's room, a full-on argument going on next to Willie's room, an an air-conditioning unit (or perhaps just a noise nuisance unit) that switched itself on at mega-volume  outside our windows every time you tentatively dropped off to sleep. The car-park was lethal, a symphony in insecurity; the pavements were larded with dog-sh*t, and the hotel housed a huge number of refugees and a man with a clipboard barking out names at the desperately-miserable-looking crew the next morning. Oh yes- and a dealer on the corner when we got back late at night. Read the hilariously awful reviews here
Just before the gig- which was fab (the audience were definitely stars as well as the band!) we went for a Chinese meal at Ming Moon. The food was great but I'm not so sure about the electric fiddle player, who got ten out of ten for being sinister and who leapt from his podium and serenaded people at their tables (but not us... perhaps he realised that it wasn't a good idea). He peered about the room from under his lashes and strode past the tables with a frightening sense of purpose, swapping to an electric mandolin for some inappropriate soft soul covers. Extraordinary.

Monday, May 12, 2014


Home top wash clothes; kitchen floor is sticky with RuPaul cake icing after Offsprog One's latest exercise. Reality hits with a bang as I collect a bumper bag of marking from the University of the East.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


This morning in Nottingham we were all awoken by what appeared to be an angelic choir wafting on the breeze. Our hotel was hosting a large women's acapella choir who were rehearsing for a competition. Their harmonies faded and swelled in the distance, down winding corridors.
What a lovely way to wake up.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Photo By Juan Fitzgerald

Skiffle from The Sage, Gateshead. Chris Mordey on bass and Fin McCardle on percussion.
CD available at gigs and also (soon) on Bandcamp.

Titus Andronicus- The Musical

Oh yes, such a fuss, such a fuss... but how can it possibly be as good as Titus A, the horror panto directed by Viv Glance that we took to the Edinburgh Fringe in the 1980s?
Packed with grisly songs written by Dave Jago and myself, we rocked the aisles (well, sort of). The audience one night included a nun, whom I was convinced was going to stand up and denounce us halfway through; but she didn't: she roared with laughter. Our orchestra consisted of musicians who later went on to form Transglobal Underground and who were the house band for the Count of Three Theatre Group.
I've still got the songs, all written out in notation form for a peculiar combination of musicians. I remember tons of bombastic energy from the actors.
One of them was a tea auctioneer with a very loud voice; he once asked me if I'd like a hand carrying my amplifier and when I said yes, he picked me up and tucked me under his arm (with the amplifier) and carried me along.
I made a head out of latex to be baked in a pie. The eyes were half ping-pong balls and it became progressively more jellified as the production proceeded.
Actually, one of the cast contacted me recently to say how much he had enjoyed it.
It was actually huge fun and I miss writing songs for theatre groups and musicals; I used to do a lot of it. I think the last one was probably for Theatretrain, and was about artists. It was performed by 500 schoolchildren in Brentford Leisure Centre and the songs were arranged by Shirley Bassey's arranger.
Gee whiz- what a life!

Monday, May 05, 2014


Just south of Berwick I hear, through the double glazed window of the train, a solitary bagpiper in a field.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Northumbrian Memories

'Kill the pigs, burn the castle!', we chanted as we followed Les Spencer round Ford Castle on our 6th Form Geography Field Trip. They were being too strict and we were straining against the leash. The manager, Mr Lowe was a small man and we blamed him the most. 'Hi, Mr Lowe!' we sniggered maturely whenever we saw him in the corridor.
Armed with an ornamental poker, Les strode round the common room, whacking the Ercol chairs on the arms.
'We weren't designed for this!', they whimpered at the spotty bunch who were assaulting them.
Later, Les and her pals sneaked off to a pub they'd spotted during the daily hike for a Cherry B or so. Laughably young-looking for my age, I had to stay home with an only Geography exercise book.
Ho hum.

Saturday, May 03, 2014


It was a brilliant night last night at Oran Mor; another Cinderella gig, with a lighting exit before the night club started up; cases out, open, packed and out the back within seconds as the DJs came in. Everything had to be dismantled and zeroed before the witching hour of eleven.
Shoulders ache, arms ache: I'm feeling every one of my 21 years!

Friday, May 02, 2014

Night Horses

In the darkest hours of the night-time, somewhere in deepest North Yorkshire, silent horses are tethered to the roadside by travellers, chomping the delicious swathes of springtime grass while no-one is paying attention. Their shapes loom out of the shadows as the headlights of solitary cars pick them out; disinterested, they look up for a second before returning to their midnight feast.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

The Ozone Machine

There it stood in the foyer of the Day's Inn on the southbound M1, lead and plug coiled round it and bubble wrap twined round it's handle.
'What's that for?', asked one of our party.
'That's an ozone machine', replied the receptionist. 'I've just ordered that in from another hotel. Within  an hour it can turn a smoking room into a non-smoking room. It can also keep fruit and flowers fresh for a very long time by killing bacteria. We are told not to stay in a room for more than 15 minutes while it's running'.
'Is it dangerous then?', we asked.
'It can kill a small hamster in ten minutes'.
Now we know.