Friday, July 31, 2015

Thoughts About Old Toys

I used to have one of these little fellers with cymbals. It used to clash them together so noisily and so excitedly that it fell over regularly. I didn't mean to feel nostalgic today, but I bought a Spirograph in the North London Hospice Shop, complete apart from the pens. It even has the leaflets inside it, and I can imagine getting into the zone on a Sunday afternoon rolling the little fraggle-toothed transparent discs around inside each other and watching the weaving lines of biro materialising on the paper.
They had some other old boxed toys there, including what was called a computer, but I didn't have time to rummage because I was so late for an appointment that it nearly turned into a disappointment. The problem with old toys is what, as an adult, you are supposed to do with them. I can vividly remember the time when aged about 13 I realised that I no longer wanted to play with toys. It was the most extraordinary feeling; what are these things here for? Why did I think they meant something, and why had I ascribed life to them? It was the same sense of disappointment as when a record you've been obsessed with for weeks suddenly loses its meaning overnight and just becomes another very good song. The emotional depth has just vanished as surely as if it was never there; it is no longer vital, deep and meaningful but is now merely another entertaining episode in your life's library.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Film 'Inside Out'

People have talked about the Numskulls in DC comics (was it The Topper?), and idly I'd thought about all those people running around and peering out of the inside of the Statue of Liberty's head.
But doesn't anybody think that it's remotely weird that the Pixar film Inside Out, about the goings-on in a little girl's brain, is written by middle aged men? I know one of them is the father of a little girl, but he's never been a little girl, nor has he been a teenage girl.
It is peculiar in the extreme that it's seen as normal that men should articulate what girls feel, to an audience that includes girls who may well not be aware that what's happening on screen is manipulated by daddies.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The In-shops

Where did you get those chips?
The in-shops.
In there... in the shopping centre.


Yesterday I went to Offsprog Two's graduation in Brighton. It was moving, once the brisk PR vids were over and the Vice Chancellor's boasting had subsided; all those families, all those young people in black mortarboards and batman cloaks, all that love and hope.
Somehow, I feel that the Vice Chancellors with all that pay and all that profile should be working a bit harder on forcing the government to notice the twenty-somethings, and do something practical for them.
If you really believe in business, get them to make a plan and give them a grand to start up, perhaps. If you need more coders, start up a postgraduate coding school and offer free lessons to those who still haven't managed to find a job in this lie of an economy a year after graduating.
Put a levy on the greedy coffee bars and pubs who exploit graduate labour in zero-hours jobs, and use it to fund studios for artists and musicians to develop, and ask those artists and musicians to run workshops for vulnerable people- elders, disabled people, homeless people, in exchange for space to work.
Set up futures think-tanks of young people to address issues like the refugee crisis, the spread of technology into the labour market and its consequences, obesity research and anything that's going to be a problem further down the line.
It would be worth the money! Get a grip, rich and smug people!
Sorry, I digress.... I was going to say how very proud I am not only of yesterday's graduating daughter Offsprog Two and her classmates, but also of Offsprog One who graduated three years ago and who is holding her head above water whilst swimming against the tide.
They are a wonderful generation. I speak both as a parent and as an educator.
What a stupid government that neglects its human capital!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Dual Carriageway Reading

I am simultaneously finishing Jo Nesbo's The Snowman and Christine Battersby's Gender and Genius. Have I read one with one side of the brain and the other, with the other? Who knows?
Academic books are both a joy and a prison, whereas reading crime novels feels like running in field. Oddly, I don't like the gory bits and now I know who the murderer is I'm going to put the book down and thereby avoid the ghastly will he/won't he tension of the last few pages.
Today I plan to write and write and write.... but first, coffee.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Bad Fairy

I'm writing a song about The Bad Fairy At The Christening, tonight.

Mary Fogarty's Write Up of the KISMIF Dance Performance

This is from Mary's blog; apologies for the mirrored referencing! Interesting to see the nod in the direction of the Fat Slags, who still really do exist in Newcastle (and places like Wolverhampton). They were busy spilling out of the pub in Newcastle on Wednesday when we got back from Chesterfield (long distance, long story).
At breakfast time, they are frankly terrifying because they are also very tall and have quite a predatory glare that withers potential female rivals in their boots. I have always been rather regretful to have inherited a gentle nature from my father, as I am sure that I would have greatly enjoyed the assertiveness that comes along with the package, and the complete disregard for any obstacles (or actually, total unawareness of) that might make life not loud, fun and thoroughly outrageous.
My dear friend Stuart Morgan, former editor of Artscribe and sadly no longer in this world, counted The Fat Slags as one of the pinnacles of great art; he was particularly impressed at Chris Donald's brave move of dedicating frame after frame to them just, well... laughing.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Storm in a Teacup: for Today's Rain

This was written by Lynsey De Paul who passed away earlier this year. One of the singers is now a tax exile living in Skibbereen. He stands at his cottage front door by the long-distance bus stop, chatting to passengers to catch up on the news of the world.
Any more information you want?

Cornelia Parker's Magna Carta at the British Library

Cornelia Parka, Magna Carter... almost poetry. Or sort of poetry.
Cornelia Parker is a genius. Although aesthetically, the perfection of this embroidery is almost disappointing, the concept is fabulous. People as diverse as the Right Honourable Ken Clarke and a battalion of prisoners have worked on this, which is a facsimile of the (dastardly) Wikipedia page on the Magna Carta. How very apt, now that Cameronia is trying to twiddle about with the present and thread it into the past is such a peculiar postmodern Etonian way.
The little illustrations are fascinating because they have each been embroidered using a different technique. I don't know enough about the formal terminology of embroidery to be able to label each one, but they are a feast for the eyes. They beam out in contrast to the steady plod of the prose which makes up the bulk of the piece, so carefully worked upon with such concentration by so many contributors.
Wikipedia is such a dead, downbeat way of engaging with information, and so much of it is wrong. I mentioned this to the chap at the Cybersalon who was trying to excite the audience about University students contributing to pages as part of research projects. He seemed terribly hurt, but the information about me was completely inaccurate, and I mentioned that to Gina afterwards and she told me that Vicky Aspinall had read that she was dead.
I don't think you can get more wrong than that, can you?
So the embroidery is a paean to dull old Wikipedia, carefully perfect but also conceptually so, reflecting as it does the access that so many people have to internet information. It's enormous, and what tempted me to it was the reference to the Bayeaux Tapestry which I saw when I was about 12 and which I have never forgotten. All those women, left behind at home and worrying about the battles going on, sewing the episodes as news came by carrier pigeon or singing bard or whatever: amazing!
Go to see it if you can, this weekend before it disappears off somewhere else.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


I have completed an entire section of my research- a short section, but a significant one, and I've realised that I can finish it by my self-imposed deadline if I simultaneously edit transcribed interviews and fine-tune the writing so far, all almost 30,000 words of it.
For most of the rest of the summer I will have to work to a strict self-imposed timetable because there is the film to carry on with, plus a talk for Dave Laing's book launch in Brighton in October, which I'm really looking forward to writing, and then starting a chapter on identity theory and punk. There is also planning for next year and I have a few days of writing next years courses ahead of me.
Around this there are some lovely gigs to play; last night I supported Martin and Jim in Chesterfield in the Eyre Chapel. It was an unplugged gig, which made it even more intimate. Sitting at the back after my bit, I watched a group of young people really getting into the music: they looked like a young band in the making. Unfettered by amplification, playing and singing become more meaningful and words carry more importance; as darkness fell outside, the audience listened in silence and gave the music all their attention. This is so rare, and so much to be appreciated when it happens.
I can't remember if I left any milk in the fridge.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Snaps from the KISMIF Conference, Porto

Alistair Gordon and Mike Dines from the Punk Scholars Network; Mary Fogarty and Helen Dinard trap a colleague in a web of handbags at their very perceptive coffee-break dance performance of Sharon and Tracy Exist; a notice on the pavement outside the University; Dick Hebdige, author of Subcultures: the meaning of style and Cut'n'Mix, beside Dave Laing, author of One Chord Wonders (and my one-time PhD supervisor) at Dave's book relaunch. It was a buzzing conference in spite of all the PCs packing up on day 2! The hosts were very welcoming and gave me a chance to catch up with a lot of friends from the academic world and make some new ones. It's thrilling to hear about all the different research that's going on all over the word into music, subcultures, scenes and politics. I've discovered that my book is used to teach in Australia and the U.S. and the short film that I showed went down very well. Watch this space for a review of a new book on Test Department.

The Whirligig Feather, the Bridge and the Butterfly

A tortoiseshell butterfly lay flattened on the paving stones on the bridge, too beautiful to stand on and too beautiful to be left for anyone else to stand on.
I picked it up and tested the wind; it was blowing west to east, so I crossed the road and sailed it into the evening breeze. It fell, but on its way down its wings flapped rapidly with one last burst of freedom before it landed, spreadeagled in the river and headed towards the coast.

The jackdaws were busy this morning. Dad was digging things out of the drain to feed to Teenager, and then marching him across the gravel to show him how to find ants hidden between the stones. Later, they repaired to their nest in the chimney pot and tidied up. They flung a feather out on to the roof tiles, where it rested for a while before sliding off and being picked up by a teasing breeze. It took off into the morning air, upright and spinning: it rose, it sank, flashing grey and white as  different sides showed themselves to us in rapid succession. Finally, it disappeared from sight.

The wind is exciting, and so is finding oneself unexpectedly connected to the internet.
Quick! Quick!
Get some proper stuff done before the signal gets slurped back by its rightful owner!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Lipstick and Dyamite

What a brilliant film! It's touching, inspiring and quirky all at the same time; Moolah is the scary centre of it all, with her business head and determination never to give up, she forges ahead in SU women's wrestling despite her promoter husband having affairs with his other wresting protegees and with a hard head for business.
My fave wrestler was the one who lost every match by arrangement and then went off to become a lion tamer; second fave was the one who felt her life's achievement was actually when she became a nurse and worked with some of the very first AIDS patients. There was a lot of botox in those foreheads, but actually the women themselves must have had the most robust bodies possible order to tolerate the frequent breaks and bashings that even the dramatically-enhanced choreography of wrestling required.
Offsprog One, well done for arranging a really interesting and successful event. I even of to try Dalston cola made from Kola nuts from Ridley Road market.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Doomed Gallery Tomoz

This is an article about Offsprog One's event tomorrow. I am tremendously proud!
I have been presenting a paper and a rough cut of our film at the KISMIF conference and sadly had to leave just as things were hotting up- brief report coming soon though; just catching up on some research today.

Monday, July 13, 2015


A woodlouse has been trapped by the pheromone moth trap.

Fenomenal Finchley

Finchley in north London has always nurtured a feast of double parking, and I used to tell the Offsprogs that people in Finchley get into their cars just to cross the road. They do.
A new feature has been added to the extraordinary road behaviour of the suburb: DIY roundabouts.
In an exquisite choreography (or perhaps that should be car-eography), large swanky 4x4s execute U-turns in tandem with each other, gently nudging their way into the existing chaos as their drivers gaze into a middle distance of gymnasium-induced endorphin torpor, blissfully unaware that they are sharing the road with anyone else.
Meanwhile, the existing double parkers and road crossers are giving way for no-one.
The double parkers, one can see, are just one nano-thought away from triple parking. What a good idea! That'll serve the Council right for making a phone-in pay parking system that's so complicated that only those with exceptionally high IQs can pop into the bakers for a croissant.
The rest of us?
Well, that's why double parking was invented!
Meanwhile the road-crossers, with determined jaws, attempt to drive over the thrusting beasts that,  as they try to decide which direction they should be driving in, circle the congested highway.
The road-crossers' cars are not quite so swanky, and the U-turners (if they notice in time) do tend to give way on their self-important, self-directed roundabout to let them through to the other side of the road. They don't want dents in that fabulous paintwork, no sir.
All this dynamic activity is thrilling to behold, and I can't recommend it highly enough.
Unfortunately I was trying to take a bin bag full of half-full paint cans down to the recycling centre; I did manage to get there eventually, and I suppose that yes, I did enjoy the spectacle of the Finchley cars. In fact if you've got a spare hour in which to drive less and a quarter of a mile, why not pop up there?
You might pick up some tips on how to be a really, really awful road user.

Documentary on Women Punk Musicians

This Wednesday I'll have the opportunity to show a seven minute version of the documentary that Gina and myself have been working on for the past few months. The film will explore the musical influences on the women punk bands from their own perspective and largely in their own words. In theory, we have only just started filming although Gina has some footage that she has shot previously. Our first dedicated foray was too weeks ago when we interviewed Gaye Black from the Adverts and Shanne Scratch from the Nips (she gave Shane McGowan his first job as a vocalist).
At the moment we're applying for funding and also looking for hosts to show the film when it's finished in the middle on 2016. These things take a lot of planning.
It's very exciting; I've always avoided doing anything for film unless it was music, because it's such slow work. But the same feeling has kicked in as when I do written research- the sense of a mission!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Not Wallpaper Stripping

I appear to be about to strip the wallpaper from an entire room. I'm not sure how this came about; perhaps there's a clue in the way I spent yesterday moving things into other rooms and checking to see if I've got a wall scraper...
The summer is the time when academics catch up with everything- research both written and otherwise (and some! I'm making documentary with Gina Birch and I spend hours filling in funding applications, watching rushes and we've just started filming), friendships (where are you everyone, after last summer?), music-making (the guitar is never far from my side) and we hope, holidaying.
It's also the only time we stand a chance of spending more than a single day in our homes. My garden, or yarden since it has no soil, is in flower and smells lovely as the lilies have come into bloom.
Now perhaps I can look upstairs in my tiny house and think about making it nice. The walls are crumbling, the carpet in the carpeted room is grubby and in need of a good shampoo, and there are mountains of Offsprog-property that need to be boxed up and put away so I can deep-clean and start to preserve the walls and windows against the ravages of time and weather incursion.
Naturally, this is one of those prevaricative blog postings. The sheets of plastic to cover the furniture are at the ready, and so is the scraper, the gloves and the goggles.
It's just me who is not.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Songwriting Circle

In 2009 Katy Carr, Nadya Ostroff (Dr No who played guitar with The Slits in their later, second incarnation), Rowen Bridler and myself used to meet up each week on a Monday morning to write songs and eat cabbage soup. It was informal; we would decide on a subject to write about and then each go off and write a song to be played at the next session round Katy's. This morning we all remembered what a good thing it had been. It is an incredibly productive way to work; Katy wrote songs that went on two of her albums, Rowen's single was a song that she wrote during that period and five of mine are on this CD (Three Maple Men, The Song of the Unsung Heroine, Two Little Girls and Me, Daisies and The House on the Hill).
Our subject today was 'Pimps and Prostitutes'. Rowen had used the idea as a metaphor for corruption in politics and Katy's was written from the perspective of the trafficked girl. Mine was from the perspective of the pimp. I think that's what is so interesting about doing something like this: from one idea, you get totally different responses and viewpoints. And because Katy and Rowen are pianists, they write different sorts of songs to Nadya and myself, although Nadya was away this week.
So I'm going to drink a toast in tea (see what I did just there?) to the next few sessions and the next few songs. We think this may be a journey that will take us somewhere very interesting.

Eyre Chapel Week After Next

This is the ticket link for the Eyre Chapel gig in Newbold Village, near Chesterfield, where I'm supporting Martin Stephenson. We have played this gig every year for five years (although I missed last year); it's a gorgeous intimate little stone build chapel in a small field behind a pub- almost a secret location. I'm really looking forward to playing some summer songs in such a special atmosphere.

Watching T In The Park

The closest that I get to a festival (apart from Womad once and Glastonbury once, when I sang a song with the Daintees) is watching T in the Park every year.
The idea of being in an enormous crowd of sweaty strangers simply doesn't appeal at all, and I like watching from the sofa with a bag of pistachios. All that sitting on shoulders and waving arms in the air along with the artists on stage, what we used to do at the teacher's command at primary school. No, no, no: not for me.
This year, I'm watching Rudimental attentively, because Bridgette Amofah, who did my fave songwriting module at the University of the West and whose thesis I supervised, has been singing for them for a while. Bridgette has the most wonderful voice and while she was at University other students kept trying to hijack her talent. I watch and watch (yes, I watched them on Jools Holland too) in the vain hope of hearing her sing a song rather than just doing backing vocals. Yes, I hear her voice in the stacked-up background blend; she has a particularly resonant husky timbre that you can't miss. But I want to hear her sing her own song. Is she doing some sort of frustrating apprenticeship, os something? Everybody seems to get a turn apart from Bridgette.
Give her a chance, boys- she's brilliant.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Anarchy Skiffle

Monday, July 06, 2015

Half Asleep, I Hear

Whoof! The house vibrates as the front door closes.
Laughs in the living room; the clink of water glasses and the shush of water filling them from the tap.
Four sets of feet creak up the stairs; I hear the door handle twist.
Rustling, rummaging, sliding; a sharp 'clack' as a mysterious object is dropped on the floor.
Voices murmur through the thin wall.
More rustling, rattling and scraping...
The late night return of four adventurers...
Or is it a giant hamster?

Sunday, July 05, 2015


I always think of myself as a recluse but these photographs prove otherwise.
In some ways perhaps... ever since a passing dinner guest made off with my precious letter from Prince Edward's Equerry, I've avoided socialising.
(you can send it back, you know: it's part of my life, not yours!).
However, the Offsprog Duo pass through and so do their friends, and so do their friends' toothbrushes, who obviously like it here because they stay on.
Eventually, I always put them to use for scrubbing the grouting between the bathroom tiles, but ultimately I think they'll end up as part of some sort of artwork, mine or theirs (the Offsprogs', not the toothbrushes).
Here they are in all their splendour, both the current crop and the archive.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Mari Elliott: Silly Billy


The thunder relieved the tension that had been building up all week, and lightning made us into old movies; we flickered in stuttering movements in the dark, moving to the windows to watch and wonder.
Today, a cooler wind blows and it's the Day of Snails.
Over sodden paving stones they glide with a determined slurp; verily, they are the size of hippos!
They bear down on vulnerable, timid little shoots and dissolve them in an instant with their chemical teeth.
Grouped in a fan shape, they strategise like veteran soldiers; they have miserable greyish yellow uniforms and nasty juicy bodies with an elaborate frill at the base to ensure maximum contact with their chlorophyllic lunch.
I swore at one particularly large beast: "F*ck off!".
I don't think they've got ears, though.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Sonia Delaunay at Tate Modern

Due to the heat, this will be a mini-posting....
We met at St Paul's and walked across the Millennium Bridge in the steaming heat. Thankfully the gallery is air conditioned; Caroline suggested fish'n'chips for lunch and that started the day off well.
Delaunay's gorgeous portraits were the first thing we came upon. She painted these when she was 21 years old and they sing with colour. I particularly liked one of a resting woman, head to one side propped up by an arm, who seemed familiar. Now that's a good portrait.
This exhibition is very well-curated. There is a lot here, but ti's not overwhelming. We could see that Delaunay was a woman who needed to make living. There were designs for magazine covers, fashion designs, fabric designs (absolutely beautiful), costume and stage designs. I was taken by a printed pamphlet that had a poem down one side and her colourful expressions of inspiration down the other. And, of course, the film in which 1920s models paraded against contrasting backdrops removing layers of jackets and skirts in brown and bright blue, making colour statements. At the end, there was the artist herself, grinning delightedly as her fabrics swept across the screen.
She was futuristic- many of her works were centred on refractions of colours from electric street lights, and there were paintings of plane's control panels and propellers. So much to see. This exhibition well worth visiting because there is something for everybody with many hidden gems: little graphics tucked between bolder statement works.
And then Caroline and I retired for cake, coffee and talk. We circled around Madonna. Who is she and why is she?
Excuse typos. It really is hot.
But that, as every outing with Caroline proves to be, was a fabulous day.