Friday, February 27, 2009

Courgettes and Ducks

Thank you to all who have sent sweet messages about McDad, email, text, messages here and Myspace, it is kind and helps the sadness.
It has been a crazy week, going back to work feeling like a different person- sensitive to everything, almost as though I can read people's minds, but also impatient when I see people wasting their lives or being rude to one another. I was thinking how awful the emotional bruises must be at wartime- past and present. People must feel permanently stunned, without any gaps to recover before the next bereavement. How can people kill each other?
Today, the sun shone with spring warmth in its rays. There is ;probably still more winter weather to come but at least the sunshine is fighting back. I imagined bringing armfuls of Arum Lily plants back to the house, perching them on every windowsill and ipretending that I lived in a massive field full of lilies and green foliage. Practicality kicked in and I imagined carrot plants and courgettes, one ferny and the other overblown and growing at a frightening rate.
Bargain Buys had packs of seeds in a rack outside it yesterday; there was no room in the shop for anything else- the ceiling is festooned with shopping trolleys and cat carry boxes, the walls piled head-high with pots'n'pans, paint tins, spoons of every shape and size, old-fashioned things like creosote, tea towels, nails, adhesive hooks, white crockery, and millions of tubes of different types of glue. The floor is crammed with brooms, shovels, more paint, big serving dishes, boxes of bits, plant display devices, trolleys, trays, a crowded counter covered in Stanley knives and blades, screws and scissors, and behind it the man with the yellow hair and beard and nicotine-stained fingers, but no more dog lying on a huge pile of door-mats; poor Chip didn't survive the winter either.
I walked to the duck pond and sat in the sun admiring the funny little waddling gentlemen in their smart uniforms, looking clean and dapper in spite of the murky pondwater. Later, Diana came round and we drank coffee and she told me about her adventures in India, She brought me a sparkly Indian dress and ear-rings, and her guitar to be tuned up. Her dogs wolfed down the cat-food that the cats had been tunring their noses up at all day (funny how they missed it with an affronted glare once somebody else had eaten it!).
Tomorrow, I drive one car to Newcastle and another one back. Sometimes I feel like I am living someone else's mad life instead of my own, like wearing borrowed clothes for a while. I want my own ones back now, please!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Early Primrose

I was walking up a traffic-clogged hill this morning, feeling thoroughly grim; there seemed to be a black rim around the world and in spite of many happy things in my life, the morning was refusing to be a Good Morning and trying hard to be a Bad Day. I was staring at the pavement and trying to kick-start a bit of positive thinking in my head.
If I had not been staring at the pavement I would not have seen the most perfect little twin-flowered primrose with translucent yellow petals beaming above bright green curled leaves, peeping out from a crack between the concrete paving slabs and a garden wall and defying the morning cold, the dull gloom, the leaden air, the howling traffic, the recession, the long winter, the arid urban soil, the traffic wardens with their spiteful notebooks, just defying everything that was stacked against its existence.
Beautiful, beautiful.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


I received this this morning, possibly because of a recent posting about towels:
Hi Sir / Madam ,
I wish to purchase an order of (towels) first of all i'll like to inquire if you do stock them if yes email me back with the maximum amount which can be ordered and the information you need to proceed with my order.Kindly confirm this units can shipped to Philippines whiles i am out of the States on an urgent business trip .I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best of regards

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Max Bygraves: a Faux Pas

Imagine my mortified embarrassment as I realised, midway through a rendition of When You Come to the End of a Lollipop to a group of four-year-olds, that it was a song stuffed with doubles entendres and not a cute song about sweeties as I had previously assumed.
The fearsome vibes emanating from their Montessori teacher were what did it.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Pancake Day

I know I've written about this before, many moons ago, but it's apt, given the time of year, and a better thing to write about than the funeral, which of course is private, and this is probably the last thing I'll write about McDad for a while.

We had scoffed all the pancakes and disappeared to different rooms to avoid clearing up: four kids plus a foster-sibling at the time, most of us doing Big Exams and supposed to be revising, therefore excused from some household duties.
McDad was in the kitchen by himself scrubbing the sink with a little ratty plastic brush on a stick, not realising that I was in the living room listening, and struggling with my maths homework as always.
I could hear him scrubbing, humming, sighing, stopping... then I heard him musing distractedly.. about pancakes.
'A better bit of batter on a flatter platter', he said to himself,
and started scrubbing again with added vigour.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Blotting Paper

Cats are like blotting paper. They don't have that doggy loyalty or enthusiasm, but when people feel out of sorts, they hover around tactfully for a while before landing on your lap and absorbing whatever sadness or anger the lapee is feeling.
They make themselves deliberately heavy so you don't get up and move on to useless activities, and they purr quietly and huskily from time to time to remind you that they are there.

Monday, February 16, 2009


The Song of the Landsman's Soul is for you, McDad. It's a bit shaky in places. Thank you to Martin for adding some lovely guitars.
It helped me to write some words down during the days of pacing around and waiting and feeling helpless in London.

McDad was perfectly in tune with nature in many ways. He worked in industrial medicine, treating people who had been made sick with working person's diseases in the coal, asbestos and diving industries.
He once asked the Coal Board to let us go down a mine when we were teenagers so we could see what horrible jobs people had to do to earn a living (the Coal Board refused). He didn't think it was at all romantic to have to wreck and ruin your body and mind as a member of the working class, doing vicious, dirty and repetitive jobs to serve society and make a living.
In the evenings and at weekends he would dig the garden and plant seeds, growing fruit, vegetables and flowers. So he spent his daytimes nurturing humans and the rest of his time nurturing plants.
I remember as a very young child sitting on his lap and sniffing the bonfire smoke on his gardening shirt on Sunday evenings as he sat with a cup of tea in the kitchen. He understood about the temporariness and vulnerability of nature, and that nothing material is permanent no matter how beautiful it is.

Thanks to the wonderful loving and caring nurses who made his last few days as comfortable and gentle as possible, and who cared for McMum and Sis at the same time.

I love you Dad.


Here is dad, looking very 1970s.
He left us yesterday evening, at the age of 88.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Helen and the Horns on Youtube

Some time in the next 24 hours there will be a Helen and the Horns film on Youtube from Christmas 2008

Thursday, February 12, 2009


I know that some people who read this communicate regularly by email with me.
Just to let you know, I will be a little slow in responding for a while.
McDad is very poorly in Edinburgh at the moment.

Astronomically Bad Joke

What do they spread on their toast on the Red Planet?

Monday, February 09, 2009

Ladyfest Goldsmiths

Phew... after an extraordinary few days in which I was convinced I was a goner at the side of the M1 (I malapropped 'the cold shoulder' at the gig yesterday, which indeed it was), her (leaving that typo!) is a little review of the Ladyfest and its performers.
The pub, the New Cross Inn, was inhabited by a Spectacularly Rude Sound Engineer, who clearly felt that the lady bands were squatters in his rock pub, and couldn't bring himself to raise his eyes from the Chinese meal he was troughing when I asked him a question about soundchecks. I was amazed, for Spectacularly Rude Sound Engineers have become an endangered species of late, and I really feel there is a place in London Zoo for this guy, where I am sure he will be cherished and happy, fed on a diet of oriental take-aways and heavy rock music. The walls of his cage will be painted matt black, there will be buckets of continental lager to drink and the loos will be disgusting.
Anyway, I digress.
The first band was called Rubella and were a late addition to the bill, they said. They were a 3-piece, competent musicians, drums, bass and guitar/vocals. They had helium-vocals and short, sharp songs with an air of bratty ennui about them. Because all three of them looked like models, I know they would be inspirational to many young female would-be musicians, and partly because of this I suspect, their set inspired two older male photographers to buzz about like demented wasps with their tongues hanging out, snapping away lasciviously. I don't know how the band coped, to be honest; the photographers had balloons above their heads with 'I'm a prick' written on them in felt pen. Not really, but, well really....
At this point in the evening, it appeared to be quite a man-fest (could it have been the pub?). I stood in front of the stage to watch and got physically shoved out of the way twice by a man with a pool cue who definitely didn't want women in his pub: well, not this woman, anyway, because I wasn't young and I wasn't wearing very short shorts. Or maybe I was just in the way. He liked Rubella, because he thumped his pool cue loudly on the floor at the end of their set, before seating himself at the bar and talking loudly all the way through the next act, The Bobby McGees.
I liked their style! Dorothy and the Gardener, they had a uke and a banjo, and made the stage their own by wrapping red lights, tinsel and blue feathers around the mike-stands to match Miss Bobby-McGee's dress (which was Disney-beautiful and made me wildly jealous). Their slightly spooky act is sort of retro-showbiz pastiche, a two-person condensed pantomime, so of course I loved them. They put subjects like insecurity under a 1940s microscope, with bluntly-titled songs like Please Don't Dump Me, singing words-each, and with Mr Bobby McGee fibbing about holes in his trousers (they weren't there; I could see, because I was sitting behind them). I liked the way they did words-each and shared the twilight; they were quick-witted as darting fish, and both were deceptively good instrumentalists. They were entertaining and knew how to defrost the audience and get them involved. I think they need their own daily 5-minute kidults TV show, actually!
Nest were The Lovely Eggs from Lancashire (I've left that typo too as I thought it was apt!). I preferred this sort of brattiness to Rubella's, as it was more genuine. I'm Having a Party and We're Killing Ourselves: what a title! Ms Lovely Egg was on electric guitar and she played a mean thrash. Mr Lovely Egg played drums and odd inventions, conglomerations of instruments that included bicycle bells, a glockenspiel, harmonicas and other things. They were very funny. The Bobby McGees had given them a party popper and Ms Lovely Egg let it off to prevent the drummer from collecting it, before launching into a song called I Collect Snails and I Collect Horses . I felt an affinity for this song, as I used to collect worms, which I absolutely adored, and I used to get very upset when McMum washed the front path and the worms all came out and drowned.
Honestly, they were very good, lots of spiky, witty, catchy songs, and Ms Lovely Egg has a great voice- proper rock, but at all the right moments.
Then it was my turn: I was daunted by the quality of the previous bands but gave it my all and enjoyed it, apart from mucking up the last chord of the last song. Thank you to the people who listened; I was lucky because the pool player had gone home earlier on and only listeners were left.
All in all, it was a brilliant group of bands, holding their own against a tough venue, and all three are worth seeking out.
One last thing- where were my CDs? they asked for some to sell and I sent them 25. I hope they haven't lost them, as I can't afford any more disasters this winter.

Does anyone know where I can buy Pirelli slippers in Tenerife?

Yesterday's gig, 'Songs in the Room', was a real sweetie- a little room in a pub in the village of Blackboys, with windows on all sides, and a friendly host, Mark , who with his wife and daughter film and record the shows as well as playing themselves. It was well worth the drive through the windey roads of deepest Sussex. We had lunch in the pub first and then went over to sing. Mufti and Sarah came with some friends, Grant and his partner came and Steph and her fantastic son Stanley came too; Stanley had a diabolo that he had just bought but stopped diabbling every so often to chime in a pertinent and witty comment that would put many an adult to shame.
It's a lovely venue and a welcoming gig; Martin took me, as my car isn't roadworthy and we sang some songs together from Hamilton Square at the end; he had Kieron's artwork, which is brill. we have an almost-finished album now.
The title of the posting? well, it was our song writing get together this morning and on the way back from Marylebone I spotted some old fashioned slippers with a pompom on the front in a little old cobblers shop that reminded me of the Pirelli slippers I had years ago. So I decided to do a search to see if they still made them, and discovered that someone in Tenerife was searching too!

Friday, February 06, 2009

Catsup: in which I talk to the cat

Eat that food
Cos that food is catfood

I know this smells yummy
But it's meant for my tummy
Not yours,

You nag
Like a tramp with a bag
Crammed full of lost dreams that are just what they seem
Thin air.
Don't stare!

What's wrong
With the stuff that you left in your bowl to pong?
It's been there for two minutes;
It's got minced mice in it!

I promise it has,

That Was The Day That Was

Boy am I glad to be home! I checked all the motorway forecasts, right up to the second I left, and was driving cautiously along in the fast lane of the M1 when my windscreen wipers just stopped working. The combination of falling snow and spray from the road meant it was a nightmare to get on to the hard shoulder but I did and called the AA, knowing I was in for a bit of a wait. They told me to get out of my car, and that I'd have to wait about an hour.
I had a blanket and two pairs of gloves so I stood just the other side of the barrier and waited. A series of lorries whooshed past and hooted (why thanks, guys). A man stopped and gave me an umbrella but I sent him away after thanking him profusely, because even serial rapists smile when they say hello.
After an hour standing in the freezing slush, I called the AA again, and they told me they were sending another company to pick me up, and I'd have to wait 35 minutes. Why didn't they tell me? The people could have turned up and I would have thought exactly what I thought when the kind man or serial rapist stopped to give me the umbrella!
The police passed and stopped, twice.
Two hours: I saw the other company's truck go swishing past obliviously. They had promised me I was next on the list. I called the AA again and they said they'd chase them up. More lorries roared past and hooted. My boots were soaked through and my hands were too cold to dial numbers; my well-designed handset connected me to the internet over and over again instead of letting me make calls. I couldn't hear when the phone rang anyway because the road was so noisy.
I called the AA again to ask where the nearest services were, because by this time I felt that taking the risk of driving totally blindly was better than freezing to death. This time, they did something, and said that one of their guys would be there in 20 minutes.
The police passed by yet again and told me to get into the car and put the heating on, even though it is dangerous to be in a car on the hard shoulder. I climbed over the crash barrier, slipped in the slush and fell flat in the filthy wet mush and when I got into the car I looked in the rear view mirror. My face was actually blue!
At last, a friendly AA man turned up, and lo and behold! so did the company that were supposed to be rescuing me. The AA man guessed that they were there because they sniffed a bit of business fixing my wipers and he sent them away; when he realised he couldn't mend them there and then, with the traffic scalping his posterior, we drove in convoy along the hard shoulder into Tesco at Dunstable where I sat in the cafe waiting for someone to take me and the stricken car back home.
Meanwhile, Martin in Ross-shire had been snowed in but had decided to try to get to Sheffield as we thought it might be nice if we played together in the second half of the concert and he has a gig in Leicester tomorrow night. He had thought he was unable to get out on to the main road, but by 11 o'clock managed to do it, and at this moment he is heading there, to do the gig with my blessing. I am so sad not to be there but so very glad to be somewhere warm and dry and quiet!
BOO to The AA organisation (lone woman traveller outside her car on extremely dangerous motorway in extremely dangerous weather for nearly three and a half hours), three cheers to the AA man for trying to mend my car and being polite and safety-conscious to a fault!

Sunday Lunch

It's raining slush, but that's probably an easier drive than when it's raining men. I'm going to Sheffield for a house concert tonight; I am looking forward to it a lot.
Next one is Sunday at the Blackboys Inn, Blackboys, near Uckfield in Sussex. It is a late-lunch sortuva gig, starting at about two I believe, and you can get real ale and real lunch too. It's called 'Songs in the Room'.
Be there or be square!

Thursday, February 05, 2009


I'm prevaricating... yet another person is coming to look round my house, a potential buyer who will yet again tell the Estate Agent that they love the house but cannot move as nobody is buying houses at the moment.
So I'm supposed to be washing the kitchen floor (yes, fans of my music, I am a veritable Cinderella, changing into a frock at gig-time, leaving the Marigolds in the dressing room, Fairy-foam still fizzing).
I'm not, though, am I? I'm writing this.
I started thinking about rich people's towels. How come they are so fluffy? They seem to have a sort of sub-pile that makes them more luxuriant, warmer, softer, more welcoming. The are fat and absorbent, unlike poor people's towels that are off-white, thin, scratchy and repel water like a macintosh (the coat, not the computer). My towels are so stiff with being washed in hard water that they won't fold over the towel rail. Either that or they are so limp you can see daylight through them.
The decorative woven border has shrunk at a ratio of 90:1, thus rendering the towel a twisted wreck,impossible to efficiently wrap around a body, let alone fold into a tidy pile. They bear signs of having been used in the hair-dyeing, or hair-bleaching process. In the washing machine, the pale ones pick up colours from the dark ones, which consequently fade, resulting in a pile of mud-coloured shadows of their former selves.
This alone is a reason for entering the lottery, although I always forget to buy a ticket. Anyway, who to the rich people get those towels from? The Queen?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Bad Cat!


Lots of things come at once and have to be squeeeezed up like bits in a sausageskin....
Tomorrow, Thursday, it's the Ladyfest at Goldsmith's; I'm playing at 10.15 in the New Cross Tavern with lots of other interesting music and it's £5 to get in.
On Friday, I'm off to Sheffield to do a House Concert, and on Sunday I'm in Sussex in the afternoon: 14:00 at Second Sunday
Blackboys Inn, Lewes Road, Blackboys, nr Uckfield, London and South East TN22 5LG Cost: £5.00
There is going to be a Helen and the Horns gig in September if the guys can do it.
I am plundering the wardrobe for clothes to wear: the glamorous for the Ladyfest, the characterful for the House Concert and... what does one wear for a Sunday afternoon gig? Who knows. I'll look at the weather and be woolly if it's snowy and frilly if it's not. How frilling to have these dilemmas!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


I'm peering through my new glarses* at the screen. I have been mildly dyslexic for years (my PHD was a disgrace of spelling errors) and came to a climax of gobbledegook before realising that half (but definitely not all) of the problem was my eyesight.
At work, where I teach study skills as well as songwriting, I was hearing my students say over and over again, 'But I just don't see the mistakes!'
Gradually, I started asking them when they had last had their eyes tested, and discovered that quite a lot of them should have been wearing spectacles for reading and writing and weren't, and may of the others had thought their eyesight was getting worse but hadn't done anything about it yet.
So perhaps it's a common problem that contributes to the problems caused by dyslexia. I don't know. But I do know that quite a few eminent academics are dyslexic.
Sometimes, I have to recall blog postings two or three times before I can convince myself that the spelling is correct.

*this one's on purpose. I'm a Geordie who speaks like a Sarf Londoner, apart from my 'a's, which will always be hard and spiky.

There's Sno Business like Snow Business

There are people who live in houses next to me that I have never seen before; they must drive everywhere, I think. They are out, smoking, watching the woman two doors down chipping the ice from her drive in a futile effort to get to work. Because no-one is driving, people are using the road as a pedestrian highway.
I remember this from the early 90s when Camberwell New Road was frozen over and the whole area was silent. No cars, no fumes, no lorries thundering past the windows. I went out and walked to the Oval, past a gaggle of pensioners stolidly heading to the Post-Office. How lovely it was! A big wide road, iced thickly. The air was dense with cold and the trees were weighted down and bunched with branch loads of frozen snow. Thick white flakes falling and absorbing everything that looked or sounded sharp for miles and miles. You could crunch along the pavements (or where you thought they were) or choose to navigate the middle of the road, and you could feel yourself expanding and relaxing.
You don't even realise that living in an environment of constant fast, deafening traffic makes you withdraw into yourself like a snail into its shell.
Silence, silence, silence, nature has taken control. Hurrah!
My favourite image of yesterday was actually the TV footage someone had sent in of a lop-eared rabbit hungrily munching its way through a snowball. Every so often, it rolled the snowball towards itself to munch on a fresh bit, and you could hear its enthusiastic teeth as it gobbled its way through the icy delight.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Marmalade and Iron Pyrites

A couple of days ago I mixed up my miseries to make marmalade, a bubbling pan, vicious and viscous, poured into three jars and sealed tight with a transparent film. Pompous little glass pots of seville orange stand on the side, waiting to be rubbed clean of their stickiness, the geniis inside patiently awaiting escape.
With the home-made in mind, I wrapped things around me that made my teenager mock me.
'Look in the mirror', I said, for the teenager looked just as ridiculous, only in a teenage way.
I hoped there was some milk left in the local shop; on the way down, collecting snowflakes about my person and marveling at the lone dog barking (in summer too: just one dog. I don't know why), I planned emergency strategies.
If there was no milk, could I reverse cheese? Could I be an alchemist, instead of converting iron pyrites into gold, spiriting a pint of the white stuff from a slab of the yellow?
There were three pints left in a sad empty fridge, and I joined the huge queue who had been plundering bread, milk and chocolate to see them through the day or days.
The street was full of neighbours, being friendly to each other in that unfriendly suburban way, clenched teeth smiling, clenched fists in their pockets, their children 'playing' (too clever for the real thing).
A little old man and little old lady were making their way very slowly up the hill in the middle of the road with their shopping trolleys, his'n'hers tartan.
'Why are you out?', enquired a man from his front doorstep.
I knew why they were out: the spectacular, the silent, the beautiful, the peaceful, the big toy, the sparkling chilly white blanket.