Sunday, January 29, 2012

Skateboarding Dogs

There was a cacophony of barking as I walked along the sunny seafront in Brighton with Offsprog One yesterday. I needed a break and had hopped on a train; stuffed with pasta, we headed along the seafront towards Hove, dodging toddlers and toy dogs on trip-me-up extendable leads.
'Arf arf arf!' barked an excited dog; 'ARF ARF ARF ARF!', barked it's pal.
The two Staffordshire terriers were competing to ride the skateboard and when one of them managed to calm down enough, it could climb aboard and glide along until it's excitement cause it to fall off.
Very funny, very weird, very Brighton!

Technological Determinism

I have just spent five hours writing a lecture on technological determinism, and I still haven't finished.
If you don't know, it's an 'ism' that says that everything we do is controlled by the technology that we use to do it, and it sounds ridiculous sometimes and really true at other times.
Technology is really any tool that we use to do things for us, even a stone-age pointed rock that could be used to smash things. All the way from there to the mega-computers...
Technology has changes music greatly. There is a hilariously funny passage in Keith Negus's book Producing Pop about the shock people expressed when they first heard Liszt playing the piano: they simply weren't used to the huge dynamic range and were terrified of the volume when he played loudly. Harpsichords and clavichords were string-pluckers rather than string hammerers, altogether more genteel. And think about how different was before the Walkman and other portable music-listening devices; I know we had little tinny trannies with an earpiece, but the whole concept of piping and entire soundscape into your ears and walking round with it all day completely changed the way people 'consumed' music.
In fact I do wonder whether the penchant for gathering in thousands in warehouses and fields to experience the togetherness of dance music might be an extreme reaction to the isolating ways of listening to music that developed in the 1980s!

Silly David Lammy

David Lammy has been a fantastic politician, representing Tottenham where he grew up, and being faithful to his constituents.
What is this I read? That he thinks smacking children will stop them growing up to become rioters?
Pull the other one, David.
Hitting children is violence. If big mum or big dad thwacks you as a child when they don't like what you do, they are teaching you to be violent when things don't go your way.
And how are teachers at school supposed to discipline children who are disciplined by being assaulted at home?
It is very hard to be an adult and not hit your children, to explain what they have done wrong, and in extreme cases to stop their pocket money (they really don't like that).
Throughout my childrens' school life, I have been aware of parents both black and white, both working class and middle class, hitting their children to alleviate their feelings of anger and frustration at their behaviour. It isn't something that has gone out of vogue, believe me!
In fact, I would hazard a guess that the young summer rioters of London probably experience more violence in their homes rather than less.
Shut up, David, please.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Holding Up Lyrics

You Heard It Her (!) First

Next outing for the gig combo of Gina Birch, Viv Albertine and myself all playing solos is at

72 Manchester Road
Hyde, Cheshire
SK14 2BJ

on the 24th March 2012

I will post details of ticket prices and where to get them from as soon as the link is set up

Bits Day

Strangely unfulfilling at the time, bits days save on stress further down the line. You go thorough the lists of things you should do, picking off a few while the washing machine is working. You sweep the emails, answering the ones you have been putting aside for later (ten days later, sometimes). You clear floorspace, and what's more, clean up the dust from underneath the stuff you have moved.
You listen to the Zombies and a bit of Aretha Franklin, but not much reggae because on a day when you are doing the housework you suddenly start noticing sexist lyrics (hence only a bit of Aretha Franklin).
You eat a fraction of a chocolate bar, remembering the genius move of leaving half a bar in the fridge to great you when you got back from a long rail journey (but you do know you are going to eat the rest of it later anyway). You survey the ever-increasing bags under your eyes, and say a thankful prayer (aha, yes, Aretha), that usually you don't have any time to look in the mirror and notice.
You think about phoning friends and wonder if you still have any.
You also sit and post something on the blog to avoid the very large pile of bits...
of paper
of bills
of bags of stuff
of pens
of shoes
...  and a green peg (?)
still left in the middle of the floor to be sorted out.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Irons 2

I have a new iron. It's quite frightening: it's red and white with a menacingly pointy nose.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


My car, awash with water, has been diagnosed and is now in recovery. A carwash in Surrey that I got stranded in ('You can't just leave her there!', wailed the next customer, prompting a rescue bid) revealed water pouring in from the bonnet.
I was expecting a mega bill from the garage but got one only in double figures (big ones, though).
I can afford a new iron!
The one I have at the moment was the cheapest that Sainsbury's could suppy.
It has a lead so short that I have to have the ironing board unfeasibly low.
It is top heavy and falls over if left unsupported, smashing everything it comes into contact with into tiny irrepairable smithereens.
It has only two settings: 'Scorch' and 'Slightly Warmer Than Room Temperature'.
The cord doesn't wrap around it properly when I put it away, so it falls out of the cupboard- so frequently and annoyingly that I avoid using the cupboard at all costs. It's the cupboard with cooking vessels, so consequently I avoid cooking. And if I get home from work and the bread is stale so I can't make toast, that means I don't eat.
I just can't let that cheap iron run my life any more!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Why Aye Man!

I pinched this from Tim's Facebook page, because it made me laugh out loud this morning when I wound up my computer!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Interesting Blog

I found this music blog via Dickon Edwards' diary- it's magic!

Bardaid Book Launch

This is tomorrow (Sunday) from 7.30 p.m.
I'll be on at about 9-ish (actually I've forgotten exactly when but it's some time after that)
It costs £5 and you get a  free copy of the book
And Den Hegarty (once of The Darts) will be performing as well as The Anti-Poet and lots of other people.
It's at the Camden Eye, just next to Camden Tube Station.
See you there!

Bankers, bonkers

Avery apt misreading of a sentence by a disgraced banker (aren't they all?) this morning.
The word was 'brokered' but I read it as 'bonkered', automatically loading it with pent-up meaning.
See Ian Duncan-Smith last night, talking about shaving money off the benefits given to the poorest members of our Big Society? What sort of hell is this we are creating?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Chet Baker

De boop boop boop boop
Yeah yeah baby!
It's Chet Baker, singing in the background as I prevaricate as usual....
De boop boop boop boop
Parp! There goes his trumpet, mellow and swingin'....
De boop boop boop boop.
Pingle dingle piano frills
Absolutely frilling darling....
Time for tea
'A breeze caresses me'....
Hang on a minute! It's January outside: how come summer's crept in to the house?
De boop boop boop boop
A blue note or two
Where's my cocktail dress?
Why haven't I got one?
I could wear it for jazz moments
Even though I don't drink

Sums It Up Neatly!

Sophisticated Lady

I have just inadvertently worn my new woolly Ralph Lauren hat (bought at T.K.Maxx yesterday) to the supermarket with the label hanging out, declaring 'Reduced to £6.00'.

Ten Girl Power Anthems

... and one of them is by The Raincoats!


For two summers running, I have had dolls stolen from my office at the University of the East.
First to go was my set of Spice Girls (boxed, but not inhabiting their box). They were cheap, which is what I loved about them, and their heads were so huge in proportion to their bodies that they used to topple over, especially Sporty Spice, who had her leg kicked up either in abandon or a ju-jitsu pose.
Was it a summer deep-cleaner, who fancied the toys for their niece or grand-daughter?
Next summer, color-change Ken disappeared. I had been given him as a joke by the Offsprogs' childminder; I'd told her that I fancied Ken and for Christmas that year she gave him to me; he was dressed in blue nylon trunks and when you put him in water his streaked blond hair went dark brown.
The trunks got lost in toy soup on the girls' bedroom floor and he ended up dressed in a fetching red sock on my window sill.
Well, Ken went last summer, as did my Office Pal's PhD (what a strange combination!).
It's horrible when you have stuff stolen. You think you have put it somewhere in a moment of absent mindedness; you retrace your steps, you look down the sides of furniture. Then you start to dread looking for it. I looked in the empty Spice Girls box about five times before I understood that they were not going to re-materialise.
'Tell Estates and Facilities', advised a colleague.
What a prat I would have felt!
I wish I could spirit them back, not because they were valuable, but because I want the person or persons who nicked them not to have done it in the first place!

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Mmm delicious.
Just been mixing jumpers with onions from Sunday's reheated curry, by washing them in the kitchen sink. The onions floated up from the drainer where they had embedded themselves, waiting for their moment of glory.

The Cafe of Tiny Kindnesses

The CD is almost complete; we listened last night before Martin returned to Ross-shire. There are ten tracks, two of which are instrumentals. It is a holiday record,a little bit 1960s, a little bit cocktail lounge and a little bit bucket and spade too. With a pinch of romance thrown in!
The Chefs CD will be out in February and I will be making a lo-fi small release solo album within the next two months.

Back to Work

The car is awash with water: I paddle as I drive and the lights won't go off. Am I stuck here in Docklands, I wonder? My office is full of Christmas clementines, dried and shrivelled, plus two forks.
In the peace of my office (the students aren't back yet), I sit and collect the scattered brain cells and Important Papers, looking at this screen through rested spectacles.
Yum yum- tha canteen! Half an hour to chips for lunch.
Not bad, not bad.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Writing the group song; with Chris Difford; Martin works with Nigel and Brew; tired but happy at the end of a good working day.
All done and dusted: what a lovely bunch of people. Funny, charming, enthusiastic and talented, I couldn't have asked for a better group to work with. Now I'm looking forward to hearing the mixed and mastered tracks!

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Songwriting Course

Phew... what an interesting and intense experience! Tomorrow is our recording day, eight songs from eight people. We listened to Chris Difford (Squeeze) and the publisher Paulette Henry today, looking at songs from two different directions, and tidied up arrangements and lyrics.
I'm off the the land of nod; on Saturday I went to bed at 8.30 p.m. and slept for eleven hours!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Cafe of Tiny Kindnesses

Here is a link to Martin's website for info about our new release!
You can listen to Beachwalk and The Cafe of Tiny Kindnesses here: some of Martin's songs from his new album California Star.

Scottish Money

Sorry North London Hospice Charity Shop, but Scottish fivers ARE real money. Your excuse that you can't scan it doesn't wash- you have never, ever scanned any English currency I have passed to you. The manager you called needs to know this too, otherwise you will lose custom.

The Sound of Music

Of course, in the 1970s everyone mocked. So a group of film students from Brighton Polytechnic went along to see it- probably the equivalent of today's young Shoreditch-Laptop Trust-fund-in-waiting types, all ready to deride the film with barbed phrases.
Afterwards they emerged, dazed, into the sunshine of the seafront.
'It is the perfect film', they enthused, 'Just perfect'.
Many years later, I was involved in a heated argument with a normally unheated theatre director who had asked me the name of my favourite musical. 'It's Absolute RUBBISH', he declared. I defended it with just as much vim. I met him some time later: he had just taken his daughters to see it.
'Perfectly brilliant', he admitted. 'Great songs!'.
I think The Sound of Music and Oliver! are both amazing examples of songwriting for musicals. I have always loved these shows, which of course are now vintage, and really not liked Andrew Lloyd Webber's sonic stranglehold on the West End.
I am hunting for a contemporary equivalent to these oldies as we speak.

Caroline Coon

Take a look at Caroline's paintings- I particularly like her documentary paintings of the area around Ladbroke Grove. She is unique as an artist and there are secrets locked within her work: time we saw an exhibition! No-one else is observing on canvas the way London's street life changes over the years.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Sometimes life seems like assembling a picture from pieces from ten different jigsaws.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Rosie and Lily Do Freight Train


On my way to work, a creeping headache sneaks in, alongside the familiar ring of anxiety dyslexia.
I wait at a red traffic-light, next to a dark old bridge stained and streaked with pigeon-poo. There is a defaced notice on it, the words almost obliterated by smears of urban guano.
'Birdge', I read, anxiety-dyslexiacally. Good name for a city bridge, under the circumstances: every neighbourhood has its stenching quota of pigeon-fragranced railway bridges.

Monday, January 09, 2012


I think Martin and myself have almost finished our next album, which we completed last week (probably!). There was a rush of late song writing that produced You and Me Time (Martin) and Beachwalk (Helen) and we just have to put all the songs together and see if they work as a whole idea. It is going to be entitled The Cafe of Tiny Kindnesses, named after a waitress we saw in a cafe in Barcelona who had a gentle and compassionate way of working, making sure that everyone was happy without intruding, and seeming to know how to behave with solitary people sitting nursing one coffee in a cloud of sadness.
It has taken more than a year to record; Martin has had a very productive year (California Star is nearly completed), and I spent most of last summer organising photographs for the book and tracks for The Chefs CD. Sometimes it's good to take a bit of time; songs have to feel right and match up to each other, and we have both rejected a couple of our own songs after writing more suitable ones.
Martin is playing at The King's Head in Crouch End this Friday, his yearly January solo gig. It is always a very special night. Come on down if you want a bit of winter warmth!

Heart and Soul Surgery in Hackney

Friday, January 06, 2012

Tuesday, January 03, 2012


Down at the Docklands Campus today, the rain was lashing the windows like a Special Effect from an Alistair Maclean movie, back in the day. The wind thrashed the concrete, and the water in the dock was pulled and punmmeled into grey, frothing waves of an alarming height.
I imagined a tsunami rolling down the Thames, unhindered by the Thames Barrier, sweeping the aircraft from London City Airport in its wake; the University of the East would find itself in water up to its knees and I would be trapped there for a day or two, sustained only by a banana, two clementines and a small quantity of Floral Gums (bought in Crieff from the sweetie shop)  that I have squirrelled away for... a rainy day.

Monday, January 02, 2012



A greyish, gremlin's face peers at me in the mirror (accidentally typed as 'morror', a cross between mirror and horror, most appropriate). Yes readers, it is mine. It got up at 6, roused Offsprog Two, loaded her into the car minus her packed lunch and drove her around the labyrinthine streets of Victoria at dawn, finally decanting her on to a double yellow line at Victoria Coach Station with a pinch of swearing and a sniff of thanks.
The car has leaked during the holiday period and smells pungently of Wet Mat, in spite of/because of being blasted by the car heater at every possible opportunity. The removable mats have been removed and placed in the washing machine but have now evolved into exotic flat black artworks, bent and twisted in a joy of expressionistic pain, and unfittable back in place. Anyway, the crumpled car park receipts, used tissues and blue water bottle tops on the floor of the car make replacing them and impossible task. A serious valet job is on the cards but I'm too out of pocket at the moment. If only I could trade surplus Christmas chocolates for the necessary labour!
Me and WetMatCar went visiting at breakfast time and my very kindly South London Friend made strong coffee that we drank in the kitchen. Even their dog wasn't up yet; it shambled in an hour later half-heartedly asking for a pat before it went back to bed.
Back home, the marking pile is dwindling (48 done, three to go plus a half-day of listening to recorded songs); the house is empty once again. The Christmas tree will be decommissioned tomorrow (alas!) and the battle to get the local council to collect it will commence. Toothbrushes have multiplied in the bathroom (how come two daughters produce five toothbrushes?), precious essences have disappeared; the fridge is empty once more and their room is strewn with plastic bags and wrapping paper (plus half a bottle of rum that didn't feed the New Year's vomitorium at an unfortunate friend's house in Kentish Town).
The gremlin ponders Christmas. Easier than last year in some ways (no shouting), harder in others (car problems and health problems too).
All in all, Not Too Bad.