Friday, April 10, 2020

Two Strings To Your Bow

Thinking

What is the point of complaining? There is the fear of becoming ill, but we all share that.
There is the bereavement, circling closer all the time.
I have cried for people already. We all have that, too: or we will.
I could not clap for Boris Johnson, a man who deliberately shook hands with people who had a deadly virus, and passed it on to the mother of his unborn child. No.
To the virus, we are insignificant hosts. It has already won 'the battle'.
All we can do is get used to it and adapt, which is what living creatures do.

The music creatures write songs, and we are doing that, and it lifts my spirits.
A couple of days ago, Jude, Kath and me had an online chat and it was heartwarming. Jude's beloved dog had had to be put down in the middle of all this: what a last straw. Wisps of normality, the life experiences that hurt so badly in another lifetime, pass by our windows like feathery clouds in the distant sky.
It's so hard.

In January I wrote a song that sort of predicted all this, and I can't sing it at the moment because we don't know where we are going until we have been there, and can look back. I have written another for a compilation that Jude is making for Richard Sanderson's label, and will try to record it this weekend (it involves recording the Spanish guitar acoustically, and being able to do that depends on my neighbour not using the angle grinder all day in the tiny back yard that abuts mine).
I am co-writing remotely with Robert, sporadically. He has the keys to the magic chord cupboard, as Kevin Hewick once put it. Working with him is like Christmas morning as a child: you don't know what's going to be in that Christmas stocking! I'm writing a song with Michel Wallace, slowly, because we haven't worked together before. And I have a plan to write with Vinnie Wainwright.
I'm saying these things so that they happen.
For two weeks, doing anything has been really difficult.

How do you make people you are responsible for feel OK when you're not feeling OK yourself? People who should be able to lead us out of chaos, from our political leaders downwards, are exposed as weak people who can only function when things are going well. The people that these 'strong' people despised turn out to be stronger by far; those who have had a hard lot in life, like cleaners and carers, have survival skills that would shame Scott of the Antarctic and Major Whatsisname and all those derring-do heroes that our politicians learned about at public school, and that they feel they have a direct timeline connection to.
History will not be kind to them.
I think some people thought it was silly to go on those NHS marches. It really bloody wasn't.

Today, I'm thinking about Margot's family.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

The Egyptian Geese

The Egyptian Geese have become a feature of the Lockdown Walk.
They started off with nine goslings, and currently have seven. They are wonderful parents; they bark frantically whenever a dog appears on the horizon, and became apoplectic when a woman with a dog on a leash walked up to take shots of them (as you can see, they are remarkably photogenic).
They rushed splashing straight into the pond with their brood, and swam away as fast as possible.
On a night walk under the glow of an enormous moon, Father Goose stood on guard, his neck erect and alert and his eyes beady in the moonshine.
Mother Goose crouched nearby as she sheltered the goslings under her flattened feather breast; they have now grown quite big.
'Bark bark bark BARK BARK!', honked Father Goose.
'Bark BARK', honked Mother Goose back to him.
What was going on?
There were no dogs about, only lone people drifting around in the half darkness, keeping their distance like magnets repelling opposite poles.
Suddenly, a young rusty fox made a mad dash from patch of spent daffodils, horse chestnut seedlings and torn grass. Across the road he pelted, narrowly avoiding an oncoming Range Rover that was bossing its way down the road at maximum speed, even though there were no other motorists around to bully.

So still seven goslings... there's enough food for the young foxes in our rubbish bags.
Eat that instead, Reynard!


Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Plumber's Grip

This is a photo of the plumber's bag I bought to carry Offsprog One around in, when I was expecting her and was trying to imagine what it might be like to be a mother. I was such a tomboy. I remember wanting to take my Doctor Marten's boots off and throw them at the looped video of the breastfeeding mother on a floral couch cooing with her baby that was being shown at Guy's Hospital when I went for my appointments.
Everyone expected a pregnant woman to be so gooey and motherly and I didn't feel like that at all. I felt like me, but with a heavy thing in my stomach.
I just kept throwing up, feeling sick all the time (which is worse) and eventually felt like a gigantic elephant, even though I can't have been that big because a myopic chap chatted me up at a cartoon event about a week before I gave birth!
So I bought this to carry the baby around in- seemed ideal- and had an idea of wrapping it in paper towels because babies grow so quickly and I couldn't see how we could afford the clothes (kind relatives passed things on to us in the end). McMum thought this was a terrible idea, but I just thought I was much more practical than anyone else had ever been.
I though I'd lost this, but I found it today dug deep in a cupboard. I'm going to give it to Offsprog One for her birthday.
It does look a bit like a Moses basket though, doesn't it? Especially through half-closed eyes.



Sunday, April 05, 2020

Stanley Unwin Gives Advice To Bill Wyman

Lockdown

Funny how the voluntary solitude of an introvert turns into passive fury at fate when that solitude is imposed on you. And of course it turns inwards instead of outwards.
However, this afternoon I got hold of the guitar and did a bit of writing; not the forced kind, but a nice gentle flow of ideas that aren't set in stone, but that were really therapeutic as they materialised.
Adapting to working from home has been very difficult; we had to change things quickly, and make sure that they were appropriate for everybody.
The most difficult bit has been not checking work emails constantly, and reminding myself that I work part time, and not 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
On social media, people are making up rules for each other, amplifying untruths, and generally stirring panic and paranoia. Meanwhile in Bookface HQ, Twitter Towers and Instagram Megaplex, economic psychologists and populist sociologists are working hard to monetise reactions to the pandemic as quickly as they possibly can. Oh blah to the lot of them!
I got annoyed by the 'solidarity-r-us' poster in Boots the Chemists window today, given that they have been avoiding tax for years. If they had paid up like everyone else, we might have a better funded NHS; it's as simple as that. How can you pat yourself on the back for being supportive of the community when you are secretly salting away money that should be paid in tax?
I wasn't going to write all that but I did. Humph.

The songs I'm writing are not the most joyful pieces of music. Lockdown has concentrated my memory somewhat. I'm usually too busy to think about the past, but this strange state of suspension has crystallised out a a lot of things in great detail. It's cathartic to do this, I suppose.

Meanwhile, the detective novels are still on a conveyor belt as reading material. I've read some good ones recently, but they are upstairs and I'm downstairs, and that's miles away innit.

Oh yes- me and my house guest thoroughly enjoyed Asbo Derek's online high jinks last night. Unco-ordinated, colourful, chaotic and occasionally rather musical. Very funny! I miss them , and my other pals, musical, arty and everything else under the sun.
Roll on freedom!







Daisies

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Hare


From Pea Soup, from here: www.mccookerybook.com/shop


Throwing Myself Into The Skip

That's what I call the morning clumsy skip that I do in the back yard between the plant pots each day.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Cristina

💔

Dream

I dreamt that I was writing a book called Exploreen With Maureen, about walking around the very thrilling High Barnet during lockdown.
On awakening, I realised it should really be called Boring Exploring with Mauring, under the circumstances.

New! Online Shop

Avoids those great big Bandcamp charges, to you and to me!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRxYDrPU6cc

Monday, March 30, 2020

Ben Wilson

Thanks to Andy for reminding me of Ben Wilson! He does beautiful miniature paintings on splats of discarded chewing gum on the pavement, and there used to be a trail of his lovely work all through Barnet High street until the council ripped up the paving stones and replaced them. That completely sums up Barnet Council: they had a potential tourist attraction on their hands and they destroyed it. It's a weird place to live, knowing that you live in a borough with such visceral hatred for creativity, but I suppose it's a good place to be a resister.
There's one scuffed painting left in the street where I live. Don't tell the council, or they'll remove it forcibly with it's arms pinned behind it's back.

























Ben has now painted gum on the Millennium Bridge https://theculturetrip.com/europe/united-kingdom/england/london/articles/ben-wilsons-chewing-gum-art-on-the-millennium-bridge/
and even has the odd discreet painting in Tate Modern (hear that, Barnet Council?)

In 2006 Ben did a specially-commissioned painting for my first solo album, Suburban Pastoral. That paintings almost completely worn away but it was in a discreet place, so it's probably an honourable scuff.
I've now ordered his book. He is an artist worth supporting. I wish his publisher was better at publicity- i can't find the order link but you can take a look here https://rawvision.com/search/rawvision/Ben%20Wilson Finally, here's the link to that album, Suburban Pastoral; I have a very few physical copies left. I am massively proud of the songs, because I hadn't really written anything for years and they just poured out of me in an endless flow, starting a solo career that I never dreamed would happen, and it's still going on. What an absolute blessing. https://helenmccookerybook.bandcamp.com/album/suburban-pastoral
And
here's a song:




Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Fox And The Teabag Booty

Barnet Council stopped collecting food waste a while ago. What a nuisance! Ever since then, on bin eve (the night we put our rubbish out), foxes have ripped open my bin bags at the dead of night and ransacked their contents.
The telly was on this evening and the drama was flowing. Although it was absorbing, I could hear scraping outside the window; it finally dawned on me what was happening.
Sure enough, a fine young fox was out there rummaging through the contents of my bin. It ran off down the street, a piece of plastic clasped in its jaws ( I wish it had taken something more nutritious).
The pavement was amply decorated with a week's rubbish, apart from the loose stuff that was blowing swiftly down the road, too fast to catch.
A week's used teabags lay scattered in clumps and heaps, obviously a seductive aroma for a hungry fox. So that was a good part of my lockdown exercise for the day, dustpan and brush in the freezing wind! So many adventures to be had in High Barnet.


Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Bullrushes, Up At The Ponds


Ranty Post: Don't read Unless You Have To

All those emergency beds lined up at the  Excel conference centre: it will be like a peculiar echo of the Olympic ceremony.

I am still waiting for an apology to the nation from the Tories for running down the essential services, and in particular the NHS, that people need in order to be healthy. After such a long time in power, they are answerable for the lot of it.
Over to you, Tories?

Those awful 'uplifting' soundbites of people doing brave things; could we have those without the dramatic music? This is reality, not a reality show. We are not a film, we are real; this is something that is really happening. Those brave people might not be here tomorrow. Could we support them with more staff, plenty of food and rest, not with intrusive cameras and mood soundtracks?

Johnson: it's only appropriate to trust people to behave honourably when those people are fully informed of the facts by someone who is trustworthy themselves. It's not remotely surprising that people panic-bought. That's what panicking people do; they don't behave rationally. Johnson has read too many books about wartime heroes and none about communities and how they need to support each other. You know: Youth Clubs, social care, all those things libertarians don't see the point of.

It would be great if the media and people in general stopped hunting'n'shaming.
Yes, it is actively dangerous to ignore the need to socially isolate, but the entire internet and a lot of the print media is awash with fake information, and this problem has been around for a long time without any proper legislation to prevent it.
A bit of authority rather than rambling platitudes at least a month ago would have been more than useful.

Big cheers for the NHS, shop workers, lorry drivers, care workers, and postal workers!

In another world- the whole spring tour has been cancelled. I'm doing an online concert on Friday via Facebook for Loud Women, and M J Hibbett is going to upload a virtual gig later this week. Calum is organising a day's internet show and I might do my own online thing too, further down the line.

Apolz: I won't rant again. I'm working from home and very busy with that. I'm going to upload a nice picture now!

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Musician's Covid-Inspired Dream

Me and my pal went into a multi-story car park looking for a guitar for my gig that night.
Because of the virus panic situation I no longer had one of my own, and I had to 'acquire' one (borrow it, I mean) from one of those huge semi-Range Rover monstrosity cars which lined all the parking spaces in the car park.
Surreptitiously we pushed the car down all those ramps, one by one, into a bay at the bottom of the car park. It took ages, and was absolutely exhausting, for verily they are huge brute machines.
I got in through the window and dived down through layers of black plastic in a dedicated musical instrument area next to the dashboard, eventually drawing out... an antique balalaika! Beautiful, worn old wood and intricate inlays, fretwood sound hole, delicate neck...
Bugger.
Not a guitar.
I wrapped it up again, packed the layers of black plastic and we pushed and hauled the damn car up all those ramps and back into its original parking position.

And then we had to start the process all over again.

Luckily, I woke up.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Tooth

Yes, in the middle of this, I've had a tooth out.
Ouch.
I was getting a bit long in the tooth, I suppose (ahem).
It wasn't for vanity reasons; in common with Little Bruv we discovered, the cause was the tufty-tufty removal of beer bottle caps with the back teeth back in our mis-spent youth, which is as good a reason as any, I suppose.
More kitchen videos on the way soon.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Bandcamp Fee Amnesty

Bandcamp is waiving its charges to artists today. If you'd been thinking of buying my new miniature album either digitally or as a physical product, now's the time to do it!

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Writing Again

It could be two months ago, except it couldn't.
During the strike I was sent final editors comments for my book. There's a major restructure in there, and some more research.
I started again this morning, accepting the edits to start with, and then making a list of citations to check and new texts to get hold of. One at least I'll need to go to the British Library for, because there apparently isn't the budget to buy it at the University of the East Library and it costs a hundred quid, beyond my means as a part time lecturer, no music income for the foreseeable future and pay-deducted-for-striking union member.
After reading seven detective novels while I was ill during the strike, I ought to have an appetite for something different. Alas, I haven't, although I'm currently re-reading Charlotte Greig's fantastic book Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, in search of an elusive quote that I kind of know isn't there. There is something really satisfying about this detailed finishing-off of the book, though sometimes I just want to throw the computer out of the window and become a garden designer for ugly industrial sites. This is what fate has dealt me, and this is what I do.

I don't regret the strike for one second, especially after hearing the awful story told to me by a female colleague on the picket line, and reflecting at home on the gender and race of the lecturers who weren't given proper contracts.
It makes my book all the more important to finish, but it's going to take time, still.

I've also been digging about in the old song pile. Richard Sanderson's planning a release, and I can't decide between an ultra cheesy Noel Coward-alike song, or a humorous little ska one.
I still haven't fully got my voice back after the laryngitis that I had a few weeks ago, but normal service will resume very shortly, I think.
There is also plenty to write: I will still be collaborating with Robert Rotifer, remotely. I also have another two projects in the pipeline but my good friend Kenji has advised me to remain stumm about such things in future.
He is right, of course.



Sunday, March 15, 2020

Review for Pea Soup in Mojo

On the way to Edinburgh with the Offsprogs, an appalling young many was bragging into his phone about his company making money from the epidemic. There were lots of other vile things he said in his many braying phone calls on the journey but that was the worst. We wondered about rescuing his girlfriend from him.
I made a post on social media about it and then decided to delete it, because there was a panic epidemic going on at the time and I didn't want to add to it.

Then I saw this, very kindly shared by Bongo Pete. I was so happy I cried. Things can feel like a struggle sometimes but this completely made my day.



















We went to the Botanic Gardens that Dad used to love so much. The pink Magnolia was in bud, and I cried again for different reasons. I am glad to know love, both as a feeling and to have been on the receiving end of it.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

I Hope!


Fear of Retribution

Reading about the Harvey Weinstein case and it's verdict, it was the words 'fear of retribution' that jumped out most loudly and clearly.
Any woman who has ever stepped out of line in any way will know this feeling exactly.
We are kept down because there are so very many ways of men who want to stop us 'blabbing' about their bullying and controlling behaviour, for getting their revenge on us if we do talk.

One ex-boss of mine had a thing about what he called moaners: women who didn't like being discriminated against at work. You couldn't respond with honestly because that would make you a moaner, and guess what- he was the boss! You didn't dare to complain because he was in control of so many aspects of your job, and you need your job.
Oddly, there was that same 'pushing the boundary' sexual thing going on too, which I discovered after talking to another female member of staff.
That's an almost insignificant slip of an example.

I sometimes feel that I have carried a huge weight of fear of retribution in an enormous bundle on my back, like a huge and heavily-laden snail shell. It's not just me- I know lots of other women like this, all artists, musicians, writers and so on. Last summer, something really strange and unexpected happened: I stopped being afraid.
I don't know why; somehow rather than feeling intimidated, I felt that people who do this will never be happy because their pleasure is derived from giving pain to others, and that this is a great darkness to live with. Their pleasure resides in ruining lives and preventing people from finding out about it. They are not to be pitied: they are far too destructive for that.

Every person who has been bullied has a right to recover and to thrive, regardless of people who throw their weight around. I applaud the bravery of the women who have emerged from the shadow of Weinstein's behaviour and I wish them peace, happiness and a sense of resolution.

Yes, there will be a defensive backlash; there always is!
The retribution.

(I have decided not to write about the University strike).

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Rehearsals

Rehearsals are in full swing for the gig at The Lexington on 21st March.
On Monday, we rehearsed Johny's songs. This is the first time in my life that I have actually been an accompanist to someone else's music and it teaches you such a lot. One of the things Rhoda was talking about on Sunday while the tunes were being broadcast is how much you have to be aware of the lead singer when you are a backing vocalist, and this feels really similar- watching another person's body language to make sure you fit in with what they are doing. It is really enjoyable and Johny's chords and songs are so different from mine- it is an adventure in a different song country.
I got lost on the way to the rehearsal because my phone's battery died. A very kind chap at the kiosk at the station charged it up, and I realise that Transport for London had directed me to a totally roundabout route which meant  along walk through the rain with my guitar, but the rehearsal was worth it.
Yesterday, I went to St Albans and we picked up where we left off with Rendezvous D'Automne, the song that Francois Hardy sings and that Vic and me did as a duet on his album. That's Vic, Ruth, Dave and me. I've still got to learn the last verse. Words, and French words at that.
This afternoon I'm heading to Brockley to rehearse my own songs with Adi. I'm just about to sort out the set list for that, but I thought I'd have a little procrastinate first.
This whole night is the brainchild of Neil Palmer who drums for The Bitter Springs and The Oldfield Youth Club, and it's being put on by the marvellous Bizarro Productions, who are angels to a lot of touring musicians because they support us so well.
Okily dokily (the Offsprogs deeply dislike my Ned Flanders tendencies): time for a coffee, and then back to music.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

Chatting with Rhoda Dakar at Resonance FM

Women-fronted reggae, Lover's Rock, a bit of Bodysnatchers: thank you to Rhoda Dakar for joining me today to celebrate International Womens' Day, and thank you to Jude for making it all happen! Photo by Jude, and you can listen here: https://www.mixcloud.com/Resonance/a-love-letter-to-lovers-rock-8th-march-2020/


The Song of the Unsung Heroine

Oops

From Twitter.
Tweeter anonymised, more than he deserves.

Saturday, March 07, 2020

Nottingham and London Bridge

Life sure has thrown me some sh*t (very little of which makes its way on to this blog), but there are also some unique adventures that make me celebrate being alive.

I believe in compassion. A few years ago I met Caroline Kerr and learned about the Bras Not Bombs initiative she had set up. It is a simple idea: she provides clean, new underwear to refugees so they have at least some dignity and hygiene even when everything else around them is so terrible.

I know for some people, kindness like this is regarded as a weakness; the refugees who are displaced by the bombs that we manufacture in Britain and sell to psychopathic despots to clear out their populations don't seem like any responsibility of ours, do they?

I completely reject the silo mindset that thinks one group of people are special and another aren't. History tells us this is a lie; scientific and cultural progress have always involved communication and collaboration.

I can't write much (I've just deleted a major rant, you lucky things!) because I'm going to Nottingham today to show the film and play my songs at Caroline's celebration of International Women's Day. There are a lot of us headed that way to play music, show films and generally congregate to support Bras Not Bombs.

If you live nearby, please come along and lend your support.
It is such a good, kind, compassionate cause. Here is the ticket link: https://www.gigantic.com/a-womens-day-fundraiser-for-bras-not-bombs-tickets/

Tomorrow I'll be playing some records with guest musician Rhoda Dakar on ResonanceFM at 4.30 p.m. , again to celebrate International Women's Day.
It's the splendid polymath Jude Cowan's initiative, and the whole day of programming from dawn till dusk is unusual and vibrant- do tune in if you can!
https://www.resonancefm.com/schedule/2020-03-08



Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Monday, March 02, 2020

Resonance on Sunday 8th

I'll be doing this show late afternoon on Resonance FM with Rhoda Dakar on International Women's Day:

https://www.resonancefm.com/programmes/5e56b22a50000bc4dd000022

Bras Not Bombs on Saturday

This Saturday in Nottingham, I'll be showing Stories from the She-Punks early afternoon, then playing in the evening alongside some amazing musicians!
Tickets here https://www.gigantic.com/a-womens-day-fundraiser-for-bras-not-bombs-tickets


Postviral Collapse

Clumsiness is the word: apopaclypse now.
By tomorrow, I think I'll be able to speak properly; the exhaustion of the weekend is abating and I've got some antibiotics to clear up the added extras.
But...
Every time I look at anything in this house it falls over or drops off the shelf, all by itself.
I'm walking through a sea of socks and scarves on the floor; two pots just jumped off a pile of boxes and landed with a crash on the lino. Everything has slumped; the kitchen is festooned in crumbs and dried leaves from various vegetables.
The shoes are in disarray, coats slip gently off the coat pile and land folded in extraordinary shapes on the rest of the things that glided down there earlier.
Even my hair is a mess. No matter how hard I tuck wisps of it into the fierce plait that I've designed to stop it from crawling about all over my face, is slips out and laughs at me like a mad puppy that has escaped its lead.
My computer jumped off a pile of books and landed with a crash on the carpet this morning.
Plastic bags crackle quietly before whooshing off the side in the kitchen.
And I've got toothache.
I hate to moan.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Buy Pea Soup

Here is the link to the miniature album out today the 29th February, a day that only comes to visit us once every four years!

http://mccookerybook.com/buy-pea-soup/


Friday, February 28, 2020

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Hand Painted Covers

It took the whole day yesterday just to paint 20 of these record sleeves, numbered 1-20. It was a nice peaceful activity and I managed not to spill Windsor and Newton Apple Green (they don't do Pea) all over everything. The other 80 will be monochrome, for the trendy buyers amongst you. It will go with your tubular steel and black leather furniture, won't it?
The doc tells me that I've got viral laryngitis, but I kind of have to go in to work at least tomorrow morning. We're in the middle of a strike at the moment and it's as important to go there on the days when we are not striking, as it is to not go in on the days when we are.
I'm on my fifth trashy detective novel and even though I've learned to avoid Martina Cole, today's book by a similar author is true rubbish. I'm already lost beyond hope in corny characters (there seem to be hundreds of them), sudden location jumps and improbable events.
Meanwhile real life goes on outside my doors, good things and bad things. I've got enough energy to get to the end of the street and back, to lift the remote control and point it at the TV and to put the kettle on.
It's really weird being the world's most hyperactive person and finding myself just wanting to sleep all day. Being a slow DIY vinyl record production plant is just about ideal, really.
Onwards, and not going upwards or downwards.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Helen and the Horns Polaroids from the 1980s

Being inactive can sometimes bear fruitful results. I've been digging through old photographs and I found these polaroids from a photo session we did in the 1980s. I think it was the best session we ever did- a fantastic photographer whose name I'll also dig out (he did the cover for Secret Love).
The best thing was that he had all these old theatrical backcloths that looks like badly-executed Poussin paintings; it was like walking on to a stage set. There was also a make-up artist who was impossibly glamorous; she did a really good job but she was still the most exquisite creature in the building, even when she'd finished. I believe she also had a cardigan and pearls- ironic ones, of course: it was the 1980s, after all.


Monday, February 24, 2020

New Poster for Bolton

Because the fabulous Recordsville Social team will also be there to spin some discs!


Desdemona In My Ears

I tried to stamp some of my Pea Soup sleeves yesterday on the kitchen table, but messed up too many of them and stopped again. You need a lot of brute force to get a clear impression, so much in fact that the rubber stamp handle came off and had to be glued back on again with Gorilla Glue.
I did a few middles, but there are some 'mis-shapes' of those too. I will sell them more cheaply: the records themselves will still be fine.
I haven't been this ill for over five years. The virus, Desdemona, is now rummaging around in my ears and throat to see what havoc she can cause there. It was difficult to get out of bed this morning; I really thought I would be better by now.
I'm now on my fourth detective novel and know all about Jeff Bezos and his minuscule homeless donation that replaced a huge investment by a US council, all in exchange for some corporate Amazon building being built within their jurisdiction. I'm reading the newspaper cover to cover: all about that, and a lot of other news things that might have passed me by. Goodbye Amazon, apart from emergencies (actually, goodbye quite a long time ago (tax evasion). Also ages ago I stopped using Boots (tax evasion), Starbuck (tax evasion), all things Philip Green (tax evasion, sexual bullying). I had a Ted Baker top that I bought in TK Maxx and I've given that away (sexual bullying).
I still lapse a lot though, which is why this posting is a passing thought and not a campaign.
Meanwhile, we are also on strike. But I'm not going to write anything more than that.

I do think it's funny to have a kitchen that is used more for recording, Youtube filming and vinyl record manufacturing than cooking, though.





Friday, February 21, 2020

D

Sometimes D is just a lovely, lovely chord.

Elusive Voice

I'd forgotten I'd lost my voice until I went out shopping yesterday afternoon and barked at the person on the till. She got a bit of a shock and I felt rather sheepish. Or should that be doggish?
I've read three detective novels since Monday and I'm fed up of them. I tried to read Edward Said's Orientalism yesterday and was OK until it got to the list of philosophers, where there were no female ones whatsoever. I couldn't read any further, because he didn't even notice.
There were raised voices chez moi on Tuesday when we were watching The Brits because I was so upset by Stormzy, who I have so admired, performing in front of a bunch of women wearing those high legged knicker things, not playing an instrument, not singing, not speaking.
I shouldn't have argued, should have just thought thoughts: the next morning there was no voice at all.
Was this Stormzy karma?
Let's ask Miley Cyrus on the wrecking ball.

Of course, on reflection, this is so like back in the punk days when we were making a lot of noise about things we wanted to change. It seemed like every organisation wanted a pet punk band. A feminist group from the University of Sussex had a chat with me in the toilets at the Resource Centre after a Joby and the Hooligans gig about the lyrics I was singing in unison with Joby. They thought I was silly and I didn't realise that I was singing sexist lyrics. On my side, I thought they were silly to misunderstand the irony of a young woman singing along merrily with Joby. So I wrote Thrush, just to make it clear that I was fully aware of my gender. It wasn't just them, though: there were myriad organisations who wanted to implant ideas in our dumb little heads and have us act as mouthpieces for them.

That's why when Rock against Racism started up, it was such a blessing. Yet there was misogyny from some of the bands who were involved in that, too.
It really seems as though prejudice against women is the final taboo: so visible, it's invisible. It's the ultimate elephant in the room, and now I'm going to write that song.



Thursday, February 20, 2020

Desdemona

I have called this virus 'Desdemona' because it blew in with Storm Dennis.
Still immobile, I've become an expert in spotting racism in crime novels.
I stopped reading Lynda la Plante ages ago, and Peter Robinson is next on the scrapheap.
It's so carefully nuanced, sometimes: yes, there will be cops from different cultural backgrounds, but the sneery references to shops with 'foreign names' and mosques at the end of the street are a dead giveaway. What a surprise to find that one of the key protagonists reads the Mail on Sunday and The Express, and yearns for the days of the News of the World!
This is really irritating, because I enjoy good plotting and good writing. Maybe I've been doing too much writing myself recently; you have to be so self-critical as an academic writer, and it makes you pull things to pieces as you write.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Chips

I have contracted a nasty bug. Viruses adventure around your body, poking at different parts of it by the hour. On Monday it made my teeth hurt, muddled my brain, collapsed time into tiny segments and then expanded it into years, and attacked my digestive system. Yesterday, it nagged at the broken elbow from a couple of years ago, pinched my face, fizzed in my head and made my legs ache. Today, it's grabbed me by the throat in barbed-wire pincers, stolen my voice and made my mind drift into peculiar swirls. Get lost!
It was impossible to see it coming, unless the boring dream in which I tidied up the desktop of my computer by putting files into folders was a precursor. It was so boring that I woke up to get away from it, and promptly fell back to sleep and dreamed exactly the same thing again.
I've had to cancel absolutely everything this week, and I'm trying not to think about how on earth everything is going to get done when I'm better.
Only sitting-down things are manageable (that's how come I got the poster done), and not complicated things on the computer like sorting out my research for work, or even writing complicated emails that require more that 'Dear...., best wishes, Helen'.
Thank you to my pals and family for coming round and watching crap telly, shopping, and making food.
I have two extremely boring detective novels to read and despite being fed good food and lemon, ginger and honey, instinct told me that chips were the thing. I am feeling on the mend already.




Bolton


Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Helen and the Horns on Gideon Coe Right Now


Drawing a Poster for Gig in Bolton

Sitting still, still.
But at least drawing today.
No brain... I hope it returns soon.


Gigs and Events 2020: Poster Pending

6th March (not a gig) Talk in Brighton Library, evening, details to follow.

7th March- Nottingham
International Women’s Day: film screening and gig 
The Angel Microbrewery

8th March Resonance FM show for International Women’s Day, 4-5 p.m.

21st March- London, Lexington with Vic Godard, Johny Brown and Simon Rivers

9th April- London, Paper Dress Vintage supporting The Flatmates

12th April- Leicester supporting the Flatmates

18th April- Monks, Beverley

23rd April- Bolton with Amy Corcoran
The Beer School, 88 Market St, Westhoughton, Bolton, BL5 3AZ


28th May-Bristol, Thunderbolt supporting Johny Brown and Pauline Murray

29th May- Brighton supporting Johny Brown and Pauline Murray

30th May- London, Betsey Trotwood supporting Johny Brown and Pauline Murray

19th June- Glasgow Nice’n’Sleazy’s supporting Johny Brown and Pauline Murray

20th Sunderland Paradise supporting Johny Brown and Pauline Murray

Monday, February 10, 2020

Caroline Coon

Caroline is fantastic not just as a painter but as a political activist. I am thankful to her for her support when I needed it most. Without going into details of the painful past, she lifted a book you will see in passing in this film up to a respectable height in the best way possible: putting on an amazing party and inviting the women interviewed in the book to it.
Some of them hadn't even met each other before, and they forged friendships of a lifetime. Subtle political action like that is very much underrated.

Fiery Bird, Radio Woking Tonight

Thank you to Elaine McGinty for inviting me! The broadcast is between 6-8 p.m. tonight:
http://www.radiowoking.co.uk/radioplayer/?fbclid=IwAR2_eDc8rkRI1xwQdljEp4oEEdBhFTzNIc9vv6o6EXup5W7b7RvsXahAx0U

When the Wind Blows

Yesterday, the wind blew me and the Offsprogs to Strawberry Hill House and back. It was my birthday present from them, and I have many pictures of stained glass windows, memories of delicate Holbein drawings and a desire for it to be MY house. It was a fabulous way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
There is more to write another time about this.
Take a look:
https://www.strawberryhillhouse.org.uk
It's a wonderful place
The only thing is: it's not on a hill.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Starting to Make a Batch of Pea Soup

By golly, you have to be strong to do this!
The handle has come off the stamp already, and I had to wedge it back in.
A few a day, doing a bit at a time, three stamps to stamp, then green ink painting to paint.
On hundred vinyl copies of a miniature album, five songs on each side: shortest, about 20 seconds. Longest, two minutes.
Release date the 29th of February, a non-existent day.
No additives: Pea Soup


Friday, February 07, 2020

Photographs In My Mind's Eye

Some of the best things in life are impossible to photograph; eat your heart out Instagram, really.
A rehearsal where two people feel challenged by working together, but manage to lock their guitar playing into a secure and magical groove, concentrating for two solid hours, barely speaking.
That.
And a recording session where the music just flows, head space opens up, ideas come tumbling down and settle on the music machines like many-coloured butterflies.
That too.
And as for teaching: well, when your students pull rabbits out of the hat and look just a surprised as you are, to find them there.
Big that!

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

The Wrong Square

I've landed on the wrong square on the Monopoly board. One of the places I worked for a year and a half didn't pay my income tax- and the hyper-clever computer at the Inland Revenue didn't notice, either. That's no holiday for me this year, then.

Demo From Yesterday

This is one of the three songs that we recorded yesterday. It's an old one that I've revived the words too (it has been released as an instrumental). The other two need a bit of editing. It's nice to play bass again, though this bass line will be redone at some point.
It's so great to work on music again.

Monday, February 03, 2020

Book: on the move

Yesterday I sent what I hope is the final draft of the book to the editor. I could endlessly tweak, add, re-edit... but it has to stop: it has to be finished.
I am very grateful to Martin Greaves for reading through it and giving me useful feedback, to David Sheppard for looking at an early draft and being really encouraging, and to Sarah Killick whose transcription skills finally got the thing moving. And more than 30 women who agreed to be interviewed: well, thank you indeed.
So today, I'm at work as usual with an array of bananas on the desk. This evening I'm doing more work with Johny Brown on his songs, as second guitarist for the gig at The Lexington on the 21st of March, and tomorrow I'm going to record some new songs with Ian Button. Only two, I thought, but there's another one with temporary lyrics, and also some songs already there recorded that I could do some overdubs on to. And I'm really looking forward to both those things.
By the end of the week I'll know about the gigs for the first part of the year, and I can start fussing on about those: some with Pauline Murray and Johny, both solo, a couple with The Flatmates and some on my own, as well as The Lexington.
I'm waiting for a student who hasn't turned up, but (don't tell anyone) I don't mind. I worked a humungously hard week last week with a day with 12 scheduled tutorials over six hours, and this week I'm visiting a new placement host organisation as well as teaching. I have started giving the song writing students rapid-fire exercises to do. Last week's was a song for the Queen's 100th birthday, and this week will be an eight-line song to sing about homeless people in the street, with a chorus that passers-by can't forget. Let's see what they come up with.
The Green Goddess is here beside me, a bit like a faithful familiar. She is waiting for action and I've done a bit of playing already, cautiously. My fingernails are frail and feeble which means that my wintertime diet has been lacking. They only need to last another couple of days.
Come on guys, you can do it, I know you can!

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Drivel

On Thursdays I get up at six: if I leave the house too late it takes me two hours to get to work because of the crowds of people.
This morning, I woke up at 4.30.
A bird was yelling at the top of its voice in the garden next door, and I couldn't get back to sleep.
At about 5.30 I gave up, and got up.
I was suspiciously energetic, but headed off to work unfeasibly early. I spotted this in Camden: a half shod woman must have stumbled home last night. Nobody else appeared to notice it but it was there, definitely.
There wasn't even time for a tea break today; there were 12 tutorial slots of half an hour each, with extra people in the no-show gaps with queries and stuff like that. By 3.30 I was half dead; the suspicious energy had gone, but I still managed to remember to book a rehearsal for me and Johny on Monday evening so I can learn more of Johny's songs. And I found a song I'd blearily sung on to my phone at some point during the day, I don't know when.
It's early evening now, and I'm ready to sleep. Tea is on the go, the TV is swinging between mute and not (too many Tories: Laura Kuennsberg, Laurence Fox, Emilia Fox.... there's nothing I can watch any more!).
Where's that detective novel?


Sunday, January 26, 2020

Acid Brass, Under the Bridge

Offsprog Two and her crew! We got there far too early and talked about art exhibitions, Hastings and how posh Under the Bridge is, in a very quirky way (lampshades a-la-Anne Summers, according to one of the party).
Acid Brass is a project dreamed up by Jeremy Deller for this big band from Stockport, The Williams Fairey Band, playing predominantly 90s acid house songs. As soon as they hit the stage, the euphonium players hauling their massive instruments up to their lips, the music hit us with a bang and it was impossible not to dance. What energy- and what perfect tempo, timing, and all that jazz! Their drummer is a genius of marching band detail- I was wildly jealous of his hi-hat skills, but every member of the band is 100% committed and an excellent player. There are lots of women players, taking starring roles, and the conductor is what Action Man could only dream of being- he charges across the front of the stage, stabbing the air with his baton, mouthing instructions, papers and scores scattering in the wind of his energy. His holiday camp style exhortations between songs only add to the atmosphere, and the band laugh along indulgently. We were in front of the aforementioned euphoniums (euphonia?) close enough to hear the intricacy of the arrangements, which are detailed, very cleverly observed, and absolutely unique.
I have snippet of film which I probably can't upload here, but here's their best one on record.
Testament to how good they were, I danced for the entire almost an hour and a half that they played. I had gone out the night before too, and might write about that later when I take a break- and I had a very busy day yesterday. But they were completely energising and I'm so glad I went.
Now, I'm going to start finishing the book. I sent off the article on Friday: there was nothing more I could do, so off it went. I hope to get there with the book, too, this week or next week. See you later!



Friday, January 24, 2020

Good'n'Bad

Good: sent off academic article (book still yet to be finished); wrote out chords for A Good Life with a Bad Apple for the double bass player for the Lexington gig; finished a new song.
Bad: locked myself out of my house and had to pay a fortune to get back in again; iPad appears to be dying and won't upload to Wetransfer.

I'm so tired! There's been so much music this week, so much writing, so much teaching. But look what it's like out there: GREY.
Might as well be busy, huh?




Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Terry Jones

The thing about Terry Jones is that he was political. No namby pambying about and being afraid of annoying people in the business- he had a company called Smith Bundy Video in the late 1980s/early 90s (I think) which made left wing videos, and made a promo film for Shelter, for instance, before it was afraid to be an actively political charity. I used to write music for them, that's how I know: Alexei Sayle charging down the street and pretending to be a rogue landlord, that sort of thing.
I met Terry Jones at one of their parties, and he was mingling with everyone in a very unfamous way. I rather liked the fact that he was there in his jumper in ordinary old Brixton with a bunch of feminists, black activists and wannabe film-makers before it got gentrified, while the others from Monty Python were in LA or Notting Hill drinking the best wine.
I am very sorry to hear that he has died, and sorrier still to hear how much he suffered from such a cruel disease. It is still great to have admired him for having principles though.
More people like that, please!

(and less people like Laurence Fox, please)

Teaching

Teaching can be tiring but it's also extremely rewarding when you are working with talented people- not just mechanical or aesthetic talents, but with people talents.
It's heartening to know that despite feeling that the world is run by big ******s for the benefit of other big ******s, there are people who think and act for the benefit of the greater good.
This matters a lot.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Fungifest

Despite it being January, these guys were out in the woods in full display on Saturday. Once you noticed them, they were everywhere. Later, my walking companion and me got lost on a massive, deserted golf course. It was terrifying- like a scene from Oh Lucky Man or something. At any moment, a golf cart carrying thugs in uniform and carrying rifles might have turned up, snapped handcuffs on to us and carried us off to be experimented on. Luckily, after about an hour's wandering and a huge leap over an impossibly wide, fast-running and very cold-looking stream, some golfers materialised and told us how to get out. Apart from that- I'm still writing. The dull and dismal days are passing at a fast and furious rate, but I do believe I'm getting there.