Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Too boring to blog

I'm beginning to wonder if I am too boring to do a blog any more. I used to be able to be boring in an interesting way, but not any longer, I don't think.
Maybe I should tell you a horror story about my past. Have I told you about the stabbing in our squat?
There was a couple from Newcastle upon Tyne who moved into the back room. They took a lot of downers and drank a lot of cider, and had regular physical and verbal fights. It was a noisy house anyway and it sort of blended in until one night there was a massive row and He went after Her with a carving knife. She managed to escape and ran into the nearest room, H's room, and the two of them barricaded themselves in with TG, the house Bob Dylan, with Him bashing the door with a hammer in his left had and the knife in his right.
I think my definition of vulnerability has always been, since then, standing on the landing in my pyjamas with a maniac doing that downstairs, no telephone contact with the outside world and living in a house full of outlaws.
Anyway, TG opened the door suddenly and He fell into the room, slicing TG's cheek as he fell.
They managed to overpower him and disarm him, get the police, and restore a bit of peace to the house. She refused to testify against Him, so we threw them out- it was too scary to wait to see what happened the next time they fought.
There were funny things too. My room was next to the bathroom, which consisted of a toilet and a sink with a cold tap; somehow the lever on the toilet picked up an electircal charge (I think it must have leaked on to the wires) and the first evening it happened, one-by-one you could hear the house dwellers doing their business, sighing, and then yelping 'F*CK!!!' as they grabbed the handle to flush with unprotected hands, getting a strong electric shock in the process.
We did put a sign up, but of course there was no lightbulb, was there? Someone had nicked it for their room.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Ghost Holiday Village

Well, I went to Pagham this weekend. What a strange place! The beach was weird- very second-world-war-ish, looking like a garden with uniformly smooth pebbles and succulent and prickly grey-green plants planted at tasteful intervals.
We were wandering round all these little deserted streets of holiday homes in various states of disrepair, imagining what ghosts lived there (there were very few real live people). Ghosts of scoutmasters, retired naval officers with big moustaches an tattoos, little old ladies in twinsets and pearls- there was a house for everyone, some completely tumbledown, some that looked as though they had been transplated direct from the Algarve. We were sure that all the inhabitants were old, rickety spectres, anyway, until a very healthy-looking blonde woman swept into one of the driveways in a 4x4.
Oh well, the game was a larf anyway, and the fish'n'chips were perfect. This photograph is of a garden that obviously belongs to a ghost with far too much leisure time; however, it's better to be an obsessive hedge-clipper rather than berating your retired ghost wife, I suppose.

Friday, July 27, 2007

My Book is Expensive

I don't want anyone to buy my book if they haven't got much money. Order it from a library (they will get it for you) or wait for the paperback (maybe write to the publisher, Ashgate, and ask if they are going to produce one). It's a dense read, has no pictures and is quite political about things. Although there are some great interviews! I wanted to be able to say what I wanted to say without a publisher saying that it had to be commercial. All that stuff has been said before in picture-books with sexy punklets, and I didn't want to write one of them, even though I might have got ricjh on the proceeds.
The BBC website's not working proerly so I haven't been bale to listen to the Woman's Hour broadcast but I am sure I'll survive without it. Thank you to the people who sent texts- that was very exciting!
I have some leaflets that give a 25% reduction in price before August and if you email me with a land address I will post one to you: helen_mccookerybook@yahoo.co.uk
Umm... oh yes! I have that gig at Viva Viva on Sunday evening, do come and if you get there before 8 I will have the reduced-price drink and food tickets. I still have a cough so I might be barking out the songs a bit but I'm going to the seaside tomorrow for the day and perhaps the sea air will clear it up. Meanwhile I'm swiggin' back the Benilyn Chesty Coughs Non-Drowsy, poppin' the aspirins, and will deffo be playing new songs that night.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A labrador's nose and a donkey's cough

I can't go to Offline tonight (www.urban75.com click on Offline) as I have the horrid summer cold and feel like merde.
The thing is, about 40 ukeleles are playing. What crap to miss that!
Please could somebody send me a report?
I have asked them to be my Myspace friends so I can keep an eye on them (I've seen the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain at the South Bank before but this lot write their own songs)
But I'm busy creating a snottytissuemountain at the moment
Plus I missed the Radio 4 broadcast this morning and the site's not letting me listen at the moment
I've finished all the walnut whips (should have seen my white walnut whip moustache!)

I don't mind the rain
Upon my window pane
It soaks my mane
It cools my brane
It keeps me sane
Stops and starts agane
O weathervane
What are these
Black dots?
The cats have flese
Lots and lots!
(and lots)


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Woman's Hour

The Woman's Hour broadcast featuring interviews with the Lost Women will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 this Thursday!

The A Box

Today I was telling a songwriter friend about the A Box. Paul Davey, who played sax with Helen and the Horns, is very good at electronics. We discovered that the best note for all the Horns to tune to was A, and he made a little brown plastic box with holes in the top and one chrome switch. When you switched the switch on, the little box played concert A. When you switched it off, it stopped. When the battery ran out, it simply stopped working, instead of playing a note that wasn't A, and confusing everybody.
Once, we were round the trombonist's house yakking. There was a persistent hum and we couldn't work out what it was and where it was coming from. We'd manage to forget about it, then it would start irritating us all over again. Finally, we realised that the A box had managed to switch itself on inside the trombonist's trombone case and it had been playing A to itself all evening.

Monday, July 23, 2007


On the tube, today:
Man: You look like that woman off Eastenders, don'tcha?
Me: Do I? Which one? I don't watch it.
Man: Neither do I.

Life's rich and complex jigsaw

I saw this lady on the DLR today and thought she had a wonderful face, and had to photograph her.
What sort of weekend was it? Unusual!
1. I did an interview for The Herald (a Scottish newspaper) about the book and the gig at Foakies on 7th August, while climbing Salisbury Crags just outside Edinburgh
2. I went for a unique biriyani in Ross-shire
3. I was given a four-leaf clover that had been pressed between the pages of a Bible
4. I got a text from Gina saying she'd bought me a ukelele at a festival in Cornwall!
As for today... well, the books had been sent to the University of East London so I went there to collect them- I could only manage to carry back five. Then I went to look in the Vivienne Westwood shop; my friend Carol Alevroyianni is a photographer and she wants to take pictures of all of her friends wearing a dress they love but can not afford, tried on in the changing room in the shop. So that's where I'm going, as soon as I look nice enough to photograph!

By the way, Caroline Coon's speech from the Lost Women party is at http://www.carolinecoon.com/news.htm

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Just William

I spoke to Steve Beresford yesterday- on Tuesday Shirley Raincoat showed me a picture of the burned-down University of Westminster and I was worried about Steve's things- his books, his paper record-players, his odd instruments in strange shaped cases (we always used to speculate but were too polite to unzip-and-look). He was happy- all his stuff was OK, and he has a lorra gigs coming up and I must go and see him play. Probably at Boat Ting in September, because I like that boat.
My 5 years worth of Q magazines has gone, I think.

Today I'm going to Scotland to see McDad who is not well. My car's smashed up again, and is going to Casualty; before it goes I'll take out the Just William tapes to play to McDad. They are the funniest things you have ever heard- the narrator is Martin Jarvis and his impersonation of pompous middle aged women is so hilarious it makes you choke on your clotted cream scone. I've listened to them hundreds of times on long journeys and they are just as funny the hundredth time as they were the first. What a genius Richmal Crompton was- the stories are like perfect little songs or drawn-out jokes, all tied up neatly at the end with William winning, in spite of everything he makes go wrong.
I think I would like to have been William.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Rockstar Tuesday

I went over to collect Gina yesterday and we drove into town to do the Radio 6 interview with Nemone. Even though I had written the address on the back of my hand, I didn't look, and we went first of all to 66 Great Portland Street, then we were looking for 99 Great Portland Street, then I bothered to look and realised we should have been at 99 Portland Place. How silly. We had been in a caff pretending we were going to have dinner with George Michael (he owns one of Stella's paintings) and the waiters all believed us.
Both Nemone and her producer had both read the book and liked it- I was really impressed. It meant that the questions they asked were actually to do with what is in there and not just the general silly myths that people sometimes come out with, and they seemed genuinely interested and excited about it. The interview seemed as though it was over in seconds, but I felt that both of us had had a chance to talk quite a lot. It's on the BBC website under 6music , if you want to listen.
Thank you Mike for your text!
Then we hopped into me car, encountered a few closed roads and general stresses, but managed to get to Oxford in time to hump the gear to the Museum of Modern Art for a soundcheck. The sound guy was great, Mr Lowbloodpressure. Ana and Shirley turned up, and we ran thru the music with the backdrop of Stella's beautiful paintings. My favourite one is of Frida Kahlo painting a roe deer that looks suspiciously like the Babycham deer at rest (normally of course it is leaping across the bottle).
Gina looked beautiful in a long black evening gown and bling. I played on some songs (but we missed out my favourite, Soho, which reminded me a little of a song called Night Caller by Fan Club, the Brighton band), Ana played on some, and then we all hung out for a while. Vicky Aspinall came (I had not met her before) and also a really interesting woman called Alex who used to make the clothes for The Clash. She said everybody thought she was a bloke because of her name, and she's going to write a book about it all, which I will definitely have to read!
We drove home listening to the Bird and the Bee, I dropped Gina off and crawled back to my hoose for a very satisfying night's sleep.

I have played rhythm guitar with Gina Birch! I am a proper rocker and will wear my trousers at half mast and have masses of keys danging from my belt... oh no, that's a roadie....
I just have to have mad hair and a glazed expression on my face. I can manage those things perfectly.
The picture is of Gina and Ana soundchecking.

Summer jollity

What do you call a cat that cuts the grass?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

BBC Radio 6

Radio 6 are doing an interview at 3.00 today with Gina and myself, about my book.
I almost forgot to say about it, was so excited about the gig tonight in Oxford.
Hedgehogs: don't cross roads!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Buttons and rats

Well I've just got back from rehearsing at Gina's. Her partner made delicious lunch. Watercress. Very red tomatoes. Other things. Yum yum.
Ana's playing on one song and I'm doing the others. Afterwards I was telling Gina about rats nests in our house and being bitten by one once and I'm not scared. The latest thing I had to do was to drill a 2 centimetre hole under the cupboard, cut out a section with a jigsaw, and shove the nozzle of the vaccuum cleaner in there, and then spray in some disinfectant. It was a bugger of a job: I had to wear goggles and they made my nose sweat. However, it was better than getting changed to go swimming, which I can't be bothered to do even though I love swimming so I never go, or sewing on buttons. Gina likes sewing on buttons and we agreed that I would get rid of any rats she had in exchange for her sewing on my buttons.
After tomorrow, I am going to have a whole day of arranging, sitting at the piano and writing cello and alto sax parts for the next album. I also have to get a new pump for the fish tank and collect my ten copies of the book from work in Docklands where they sent them.
But before that I have three towels to hang on the washing line, and I have to do it quickly before it starts raining again.
See you later.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Socks and Oysters

My cat Charlie ate the last of my favourite socks yesterday. He drills through the washing with his nose until he unearths the sock- this is clean washing, you know- and then runs off with it to somwhere private and eats as much as he can before he gets caught.
Anyway, I thought you might like this photo. I thought this biscuit, which was handed out at High Barnet tube station, would last for ever. There was a woman looking embarrassed with a whole tray of them one evening when I came home. Most people ate theirs straight away but I didn't want to do that, because I was worried about what it might be made of, and I decided to keep it for ever. But it's faded in the sun and probably gone soggy too, so here's a photo before it goes in the bin.
It's nicely wrapped in cellophane.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Stella Vine

Had my photo taken for the Guardian Women's page yesterday afternoon, so I reckon they will definitely print the article about the book and the musicians. The photographer was nice and had been at Glastonbury. I gave him a copy of Suburban Pastoral to listen to.

I'm going to Gina's now to learn her songs; she's been asked to play for Stella Vine's exhibition in Oxford next Tuesday and has asked me to accompany her. So I'm going to be playing thrashy solid-body guitar all day, wahey wahey!

And finally, L A Strings made such a good job of filing the frets of the Green Goddess that it's almost like having a new guitar. I am completely delighted with it and I suspect new songs will float out of it. I've already written the first Christmas song, so I hope the compilation happens.

Actually, what I have written in this posting sounds completely pretentious. I've even deleted some of it, two days later.
I promise I am still a perfectly normal human being who hates hoovering, never irons, likes cooking, eats too much chocolate, gets miserable half the time, worries about everything all the time, and can't do a cartwheel.

If I could do a cartlwheel, then everything would be all right.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Sorriest of all about my spelling. I've been kidding myself for a long time that it's my lack of typing skills, but actually, I can not see the mistakes, they hide from me, and i think it must be dyslexia.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A hole load of sorrow

In the doctor's surgery this morning there were three elderly nuns who had obviously all decided to get ill at once. They looked fierce and unbending; one pushed in the queue in front of me, but the receptionist saw what happened and I didn't miss my turn. I dodn't even look at the nun to see if she was glaring at me, because I could guess that she was.
There was also a young woman telling off her old dad very loudly. It was difficult not to intervene; it was the sort of family argument that normally happens behind closed doors. First she was wrong; then old dad was wrong, then she was again. Hopeless, unless they both decided to compromise. Could the nuns not have intervened? I sat and read a scandal mag that was not fit to wipe the devil's bot upon.

I'm still bowled over by the trip to the uke shop; it was a lovely surprise.
Ah yes, her is the link to Paul Chong's photos from Birkenhead: http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/thechongs/album/band%20pictures/index.html
I kept forgetting to do this (sorry Paul) and there are lots of other things I keep forgetting to do too. Sorry everybody.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

More about Ukeleles, and the Song Club Show

As always, the Song Club children sang in tissue-whispers, whereas at the workshops they'd been bellowing like charging camels. Never mind- they were all as proud as punch, grinning away at the end, with the whole school looking on trying to put the frighteners on them, evils galore.
Later, I went with a friend to the Duke of Ukes to look at the Ukeleles. What a lovely little shop, tucked away just off Brick Lane. We nearly got sucked into a few Indian restaurants on the way but found it, with its window display of orange and pink fluorescent ukeleles with matching bags. There were some really beautiful instruments there including some vintage banjos, and a real mixed clientele- two business men buying serious uke-cases, and a guy with a Basement Jaxx t-shirt; "I used to have a ukelele but it broke'. It's a nice scruffy shop with very friendly staff in it. I am going to save up and get a nice ukelele in September, and write songs about autumn in a Hawaiian style.

Food Poem

It's time to chop onions and cry
My sadness will end when they fry

(attributed to H McC, 2007)

Monday, July 09, 2007


To the loudmouth songwriter who tried to spoil everybody's sets at the Cross Kings last night by yakking to his mates at full volume: you are not big and you are not clever, and the ladies in the corner had much better manners than you and better music too.
So there!
Sorry to be so gruff, but these things happen and could spoil your day if you were not a cheery optimist.
Ha ha!
It's the Song Club show tomorrow, assembly with the mummies. Have to learn the words of the songs tonight whan I've got me guitar back from the luthiers (LA Strings in Barnet, brilliant). The scratch plate of the Hofner fell off and they're fixing it on again. I reckon I like these little shows 'cos of being brought up in a village, where the Wylam Community Week show was the hightlight of the year- the primary school teacher conducting the choir in a Very Short Skirt Indeed so when she lifted her arms with the conductor's baton the daddies all went faint with lust; Mrs Hibbert with her thick pink lipstick, practical metal-rimmed spectacles and her velvet hat upon steel grey permed curls: 'I've got a bonnet, trimmed with BLOO, do you wear it? Yess I DOO!', Little Bruv playing the trumpet and missing his cue every time in spite of poring over the sheet music all the way through with his friend Robert, the Rock Band (one number), the Girl Guides (oops, me) singing in fairy voices, melting no butter in our mouths in spite of some of us (not me) being famous in the Tyne Valley as glad-to-have-its (ahem). Ah happy days! Well, weird days at least.
Toodle-oo for now. The car needs new tyres to pass its MOT so no charity shop forays, walnut whips or Amazon-grazing for me this month.
And Craig... the reason we didn't play any songs together in Gateshead was my almost 6-hour journey form London because of the rainstorms, which resulted in Martin's guitar being in the boot of his car at Newcastle airport instead of being at the gig. So only one guitar (mine). Definitely next time.
Guess what- I'm going to make a Christmas CD! What fun! I spent the morning dreaming up ideas for gruesome and peculiar Christmas songs to write for it.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Gig tonight and a suddenly remembrance

I have a gig tonight at
at the Cross Kings
126 York Way, King's Cross, London and South East N10AX
Cost : Free

Last night I suddenly remembered the decimalisation jingles that the Scaffold made up; they were broadcast as public information films on the BBC to tell us all how to cope with the changeover. We didn't need them- everything got a bit more expensive for a while as the dastardly shopkeepers swindled us, but apart from that paying for things is just about counting, however you do it. But the jingles were brilliant- they must have been, cos i can still recall them:

Decimalisation, decimalise
Decimalisation, decimal five

One pound is a hundred new pennies, a hundred new pence to the pound

Use yer old pennies in sixpenny lots, use yer old pennies in sixpenny lots

See? I can even remember th melodies and if you ask me at the gig tonight I shall sing them to you.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Ukeleles and painted faces

I just did an interview with Leonie Cooper for the Guardian Womens' page about the Lost Women. We sat in the sun in the courtyard of the Mitre (sun? who's that?). Apparently she plays ukelele and she's recommended the Duke of Uke shop in the east end, so I will have to go there and check it out. She says you can get a beginners ukelele for about 20 quid.
My uncle had a great little piece of film of a George Formby Club. A large group of solemn men sat in rows watching a projection of George Formby singing 'When I'm Cleaning Windows', each playing along on a litte ukelele, completely absorbed in what they were doing.

Here's another funny thing. I have face-painted Alistair Darlings' childrens faces. I can't remember what I painted on their faces, but I do remember that they didn't have fair hair and black eyebrows.

Friday, July 06, 2007


Well, I was running out of titles! Do you remember that song? I can hardly remember it at all but I can remember that bit.
Song Club went very well yesterday- one little boy was really cross at the beginning of term because he didn't want to come but his mum said he had to- and yesterday although he'd been off school with a broken arm, he asked his mum to bring him along after school so he could join in.
The latest song has a definite psychedelic feel to it, mostly due to the children's lyrics. Instead of writing songs about bomber squadrons and heroic British fighter pilots singing God Save the Queen as they plunge to their deaths through the fog, their lyrics ara all about saying what you like when you're in the air all alone, looking at whales down below in the sea, clouds like pillows and lots of other dreamy things.
Much better.
This has been a very weird week, in which I have been tortured by various doctors in various hospitals, panicked to finish some freelance work, done a little bit of recording (yesterday), eaten almost all the fudge I brought home from Edinburgh (I'm doing an experiment to locate the point at which you have to stop eating it to prevent yourself from feeling sick), but generally felt quite happy even though it has poured with rain.
I got a minicab back late one night with a Bangladeshi driver who was ecstatically happy because it was chucking it down. 'Just like Bangladesh!', he said, and told me all about swimming in waterfalls in the mountains. He completely eradicated my assumption that Bangladesh was all about misery and floods, all the time. It sounds like a country with a lot of very beautiful natural areas.
Tomorrow, I'm meeting a woman who is writing something about the Lost Women book for the Guardian Women's page.
I have a stye on my right eye that feels a bit as though a huge hen is perched on it, winking at everybody and saying LOOK AT ME. While fascinating to watch its progress, I would rather it either belonged to someone else, or that it was a piece of costume jewellery that I could remove when I got bored with it.
If it hangs around much longer I'll make it into a feature, give it a name and perhaps its own column in the Barnet Times.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Not such a miseryguts today

Yesterday was crap- I spent the morning with my right eye pouring tears all over the place (ended up going to Barnet General last night and getting some medicine) even though I was out at Highgate with Diana and her three dogs. I was gloomy but the endorphins kicked in later on and I'm back to my usual dumb cheerful self again. My car smells a little doggy, but it's always nice to see Diana and I gave her a little old guide book to Mull; whe's just done a series for Resonance FM about Mull which the Independent newspaper has bigged-up three weeks in a row and I'm trying to persuade her to pitch it to the BBC.
If you're one of Joby's disciples, a big Hello to you! I got his mailout and I know he's mentioned this blog. I did like his picture of all your technology charging from the mains while you were all having a cup of coffee- reminded me of those hosses tethered to the railings at the saloon bar back in the Old West.
I think it was partly not being near a giutar for four days too, actually. Possibly I am addicted to playing guitar; I definitely get withdrawal symptoms when I stop. The green guitar's got to go to the menders to have its action lowered and the Hofner needs itts scratch plate screwed on again. Luckily I have been given an extraordinarily camp guitar which I will photograph and show you one day, and I can play that while the others are in hospital.
The book's done and partied, work's over for the summer, and now I'm going to set my mind to finishing the next CD and getting some gigs.
And rather a lot of sleep too, actually.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Coming Back

Well, I'm not sure what to make of that conference in Newcastle.
There was a very rude woman, one of the organisers, who was so shockingly bad-mannered that I felt like telling her to get lost and just go home without bothering to do my paper.
It was weird anyway because McDad is not well, and I'd also cleverly left my computer at home and only had a PDF-sized printout, which I had enlarged at a quick-print place so I had a giant set of disorganised lecture notes. But I suppose it went OK.
My friend Debi from Cardiff was there, almost finished her PHD on Kate Bush, and it was nice to see her.
The best thing was seeing the Royal Victoria Infirmary, where I used to work in the x-ray darkrooms as a technician, McDad's old office, and the place where I used to go to a Saturday morning pottery class when I was 8, and made a suubmarine in the shape of a teapot, or a teapot in the shape of a submarine, I can't remember which. It had people peering out of portholes all down the sides. And I liked the smell of the clay. I also remembered having German Measles when I was about 12 and sitting in the car while the family went for lunch at the University restaurant. Why didn't they leave me at home?
The Clock in Newcastle Central Station had no hands. Geordie time, said a friend.
It was a nostalgia fest mixed with an uncomfortable conference.
I am glad the weekend is over.