Sunday, February 28, 2016

In Disgrace: Mrs Fry and Mrs Cameron Get Called to The Head's Office

It had been Tolerance Week at St Eton's Primary School. Word had got round the village that the posh boys were bullying the Oiks from St Abbot's Primary on the council estate, and the local paper the Daily Mudrake had a reporter outside the gates of both schools looking for a story.

Outside the Head's office sat Mrs Fry and Mrs Cameron, waiting for their husbands to come to take them home. Mrs Fry was sobbing quietly into her hanky, but Mrs Cameron was aloof and looked into the middle distance, her coral lipstick just beginning to melt.
The Head had been furious. Both boys had been standing outside St Abbott's Primary heckling the parents.

'Bag Lady, Bag Lady!', young Stephen had been chanting in a sneering voice at an unfortunate mother, who although she prided herself on sewing every stitch of her children's clothing, sometimes forgot to put on make-up and high heels at the school gate.

'Where'd ya get yer suit, where'd ya get yer suit?
Yer look like a dustman yer ug-ly brute!'.
A pleasant chap with a beard who worked at the local library had phoned St Eton's to complain, and had been able to describe a boy with a new shiny suit very like young David's birthday suit that Grannie had bought him two weeks ago. But Mrs Cameron knew that young David couldn't possibly have been so rude. He didn't even know what a dustman was.

The two Mummies sat and waited for the two Daddies. Privately, each of them decided to move their boys to a school that had a little more sense and tact. Didn't the school realise just how precious their little ones were?

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Union Street

Parents Evening at St Eton's Primary School, Chipping Pinchbury

It was a nice touch to serve filter coffee and canap├ęs at the parents evening. Ever since the school had privatised itself, little details had come to the forefront: little important details. And somehow, they had managed to wangle it so those bloody school inspectors didn't get a look-in. Hah! As if parents didn't know what their own children needed (no refugee children and no special needs for starters!).
Mrs Johnson had fallen off her bicycle on the way there.
Well it wasn't really hers; she'd seen in propped up unlocked against a lamp-post last week, and finders keepers, losers weepers. It was painted red and white like a Post Office bike when she found it but Joshua the handyman had give it a quick lick of paint and now it was hummingbird-blue, or something like that.
She had a red nose from the bump (or possibly form the gin, but that's another story), and she sat at the table opposite Mr Register, little Boris's teacher.
Mr Register was obviously uncomfortable; he was telling her a story about pulling his hanky from his pocket and a twenty pound note falling out on to the classroom floor. He was saying that Boris had grabbed it and run off out of the school gates, shouting 'Finders keepers, losers weepers!' at the top of his voice. The next day the Headmaster, Mr Corbyn, had invited little Boris into his office; according to Mr Register, little Boris had completely denied having anything to do with it.
Mrs Johnson was appalled. How dare the school make up a story like that about her sweetest boy?
She gathered herself together, scooping the keys, lipstick, receipts and crumpled up tissues back into her capacious handbag and marching out.
'You won't hear the last of this!' she bellowed, before marching home to tuck into the champagne truffles and caviar that little Boris had so kindly surprised her with on Mother's Day. Imagine him saving three months worth of pocket money to buy her something like that!
The school simply didn't understand just exactly how sweet her sweetest boy was.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Mummies Get Worried

Mrs Johnson and Mrs Cameron were a bit worried. Their little boys had gone out to play with each other two hours ago and it was about time they came home for their tea.
At opposite ends of the village, they furrowed their foreheads.
Mrs Johnson scooped up a few stray hairs that had sprung out from her untidy bun, and tucked them into her hairband.
Even Mrs Cameron's immaculate lacquered rococo updo had a hair out of place.
A thought bubble hovered above Mrs Johnson's head as she made a cup of PG Tips and reached for the Mr Kipling's Fondant Fancies. Inside the thought bubble were the words, 'Should we really have given Boris a catapult for Christmas?'.
Boris was such an untruthful child; he had a knack of embedding his lies in the middle of a joke. The day he'd thrown a stone through Mrs Livingstone's window he hadn't owned up, even when the vicar sat him down and asked him. All he'd done was laugh and shout 'Let him who is without sin cast the first stone!' over and over again, until the vicar, deafened by his bellowing and upset by his rudeness, went back to the vicarage and wasn't seen again for a week.
Meanwhile, just five minutes along the road, Mrs Cameron was making a cup of Earl Grey (the 'help' was in the village taking the poodle for its weekly shampoo) and rummaging through a box of Rose and Violet Cremes. Above her head was a thought bubble with the words, 'Should we really have given David a pea shooter for Christmas?'. The problem was that David had such a temper on him, and if he didn't get what he wanted, he got all red-faced and shouted and stamped his feet really hard. That made the dog panic and rush about the house barking, so of course the neighbours immediately knew that David was having one of his little tantrums: so they'd had to buy him the peashooter he'd asked for instead of the latest Harry Potter, which he said he didn't want because it was written by a lady.
Oh dear. the hours passed by. Just where could those boys be?

The Texting Man

This is reposted from elsewhere where I also post stuff, so apologies if you've already read it; I was leaving the Vi Subversa post some space out of respect.

It was drizzling, and the drizzle was settling on my coat. I had my guitar on my back and I was in a hurry. The texting man was walking slowly in front of me. He was square in shape and was zig-zagging so every time I tried to overtake him on the left, he was in the way, and every time I tried to overtake him on the right, he was in the way too. I practised patience, and slowed to his pace. I did not want to be a nasty suburban pusher-out-the-way. He wasn't very good at walking and texting, and I wasn't very good at being patient either.
I was just about to snap and snarl 'EX-CUSE ME!', when he bumped into a lamp post.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Vi Subversa Helps Us

I found it hard to call her Vi, because I first knew her as Frances. She had set up a promise by the Trustees at the Presbyterian Church just off North Street in Brighton, where there was a Community Resource Centre in the old church hall, to allow bands to rehearse and play gigs in the capacious vaults underneath the centre.
Before punk started up, I went to the occasional party down there in The Vault and sometimes saw bands playing. The partygoers were hippyish sometimes, sometimes transgender, always alternative and unusual.
Everyone who was everyone in the impoverished non-mainstream used to drop in there; political activities were planned, arguments between different factions played out, and it genuinely was a centre for outlaws.
Things hotted up after The Buzzcocks played there. Sadly, I missed the gig, but my then boyfriend had managed to get a job as a video director upstairs, where there were advice people, poster printing, constant cups of instant coffee and a two-bar electric fire.
Frances was a presence, and we knew that she played in band with her family: the early Poison Girls, with a woman called Sue who was one of a twin and who had very long hair, on semi-acoustic bass.
When the band in the basement of our squat, The Molesters, had one deafening rehearsal too many, we got them a gig at The Vault so we could have an evening's peace.
They wouldn't do it, so Steve, Nick and Joby decided to form a band. Steve and Nick decided to be guitarists and Joby decided he would be the singer, and they all decided that I would play bass guitar.
We went to tell Frances, and immediately she offered us her 14 year old son (who was Poison Girls' drummer at the time) to stand in on drums, and Sue offered to lend me her bass which I was delighted to discover had once belonged to The Buzzcocks.
Frances was full of glee, because she wanted young people to make bands and say what we had to say through music. Unlike the rest of us, she was 40, but she was so open and easy to talk to that it was impossible not to trust her completely. An adult who didn't judge? Extraordinary.
I don't think she ever 100% agreed with Joby, who was exploring various abrasive avenues that punk was leading him to, but she supported his right to be himself whatever he said or did (or indeed anyone's) - so long as he was happy to have a conversation about it. Frances was like that with everyone, and to have her support was a blessing. I had had a miserable time at Brighton Art College being alternately flirted with and insulted by my tutors (all apart from Stuart, but I've written about him before) and it was a genuine surprise to be able to talk wholeheartedly with an adult who treated me with respect and who seemed interested in what I had to say, rather than imposing their own ideas on me.
After that first gig, with songs written in an afternoon from copies of The Sun and The Mirror, we got more- that was the way with punk bands. Poison Girls continued to play, we continued to see them, until eventually they left Brighton for London and the anarcho punk scene.
I cited Vi Subversa as a mentor when Women in Music asked for people to tell them about their mentors. I think it might usually mean a one-to-one relationship, but I would say that she mentored the entire early punk scene in Brighton. Everyone knew and trusted her, even bands from different strands of punk with their silly small-town stand-offs; she was good-natured and listened to immature ramblings and grand plans with the same attention and patience.
Years later, when I wrote The Lost Women of Rock Music, she sent me a lovely letter along with the questionnaire I'd sent to Spain, where she was a blueswoman (just changed to bluesman by autocorrect: what an extraordinary thing!) and I  was able to fill in some gaps about her own experience of Brighton at that time. She had really stuck her neck out to protect us all from the Church Trustees (who ever paid rent for their rehearsal arches? Practically nobody- we had no money!) and often had to fight off unfair criticism. The Brighton Women's Group, which was supposed to be a feminist support group, subjected her to a really unpleasant experience. That was the major reason why I wouldn't touch 1970s feminism with barge-pole; what should have been an open-minded support group was horrifically ageist and nasty, and I am so sorry that they were like that.
We had been hoping to film her for our documentary, and now I know why she didn't answer the phone when I was trying to contact her. It is tremendously sad not to be able to include her stories, but I feel so very lucky to have known her because she restored my faith in humanity at a very cruel time in my life, and made me realise that there are great ways of growing up and growing older, and that much of our power as human beings exists in the sphere of independent thought and positive action.
Frances deserved every good thing that life brought to her. Her kids had a fabulous Mum, we all had an amazing mentor in Brighton, and Vi Subversa was truly one of life's great characters and loving beings; what an inspiration.

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Songwriting Circle, Five Years On

So how did this happen? We have managed to gravitate together again, after a long break.
Katy has two successful albums under her belt (the most recent one, Polonia, got four stars everywhere and in everything); Rowen has lived in Prague and come back to England; Nadya has moved to Southend and become an academic, and I... well, it feels as though everything is the same, but I know things have moved on, although I can't see it.
So what happened to the songs we wrote? Lots of Katy's turned up on her two albums; Rowen played hers in New York; Nadya's became a soundtrack for a show at Men's Fashion Week, and most of mine turned up on the album Take One. That means that we were productive, alongside eating cabbage soup at Katy's and talking about everything and nothing.
This time we ate pumpkin soup, and sat around the table with a whiteboard that Katy had found outside with 'take me' or something like that written on it. We each played a song; we write in such different styles, it's intriguing to hear what the others write about and the way they sound.
What a lovely way to spend and evening, although the whiteboard didn't get written on much.
We have a task to write a song before the beginning of March. I have already started scribbling lyrics in book, and already decided that they are a load of rubbish. I remember this well from five years ago, and I remember scrabbling to finish songs the day before cabbage soup day. Will this happen this time around, I wonder?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Princess and the Pea

Just provide the Princess.

The Marketing Beard

If you walk down one of the many busy thoroughfares of East London, you will come across examples of the Marketing Beard. You will most likely find it worn by a burly fellow behind an artisan coffee stall, possibly a mobile one, and he will usually be wearing an apron.
Five years ago, he didn't have a beard; not because he was young, but because beards were just emerging as de-rigeur facewear for East London checky-shirt technology chaps on bicycles.
It has become a useful marketing strategy to wear a beard in order to mimic the desired clientele who stroll past on a Sunday, encouraging them to think: 'Look! Coffee! Served by a Person Just Like ME!'. They can't wait to interact; teeth smile out of mirroring beardy faces in knowing recognition and hirsute bonhomie as one East London hand presents money to the other, which passes him a steaming cup of exotic liquid.
Those at the absolute cutting edge, however, have been seeking out truly disgusting instant coffee served by a lady over the age of 70 in a flowery apron, helped by a little old chap in a bobbly acrylic cardy and a flat cap. You read it here first- don't get left behind!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Stephen Foster Pilkington- Snarling at the Snooty

Stephen is a great live performer who ricochets between playing violin and guitar, thrashing at both with no mercy. He has just released an album on a USB stick and I'll find out how you can get one, because I've just been jolted out of my Sunday morning stupor by listening to it.
It's name? The Love That Kills, a most appropriate title for a Valentine's Day review, I think.
Stephen's anger is a bit like a social-commentary Santa Claus that rushes across the sky, bringing us gifts of rage; he is magnificently angry, and no word is wasted in articulating how he feels, either directly or metaphorically. In the anthem The Love That Kills, he berates the spoiled and smug using guitars as his weapon; If This Isn't Good, What Is? puts Abba-type piano stabs to good use; sometimes, it's the trusty fiddle which he alternately mocks and flatters: there are shades of Darryl Way in his playing. Do My Eyes See Everything When I'm Looking At You is a lovely song that begs to be covered as the bittersweet sting is buried in major seventh chords. Sometimes The Monkees peep out from behind the curtains, and most hilariously in my fave song She Says She's Seen the Light,  The Pet Shop Boys gobble up Soft Cell in a pumping Euro beat.
Best of all, these songs have choruses you can sing along to- hooray!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Mari Elliott, Silly Billy: Poly Styrene's First Single

During the week when people were mourning David Bowie's death, I thought about fandom and how it make people feel. I have never been much of a fan although I have always loved music; I've just not had that total identification with, or adoration of, a musician or band.
I thought about Poly Styrene; she meant  a lot to me because she was so normal, in a really strange way. She had her own world of Dayglo and subverted ads, and was hugely influenced by Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi. She wanted to be a singer from a very young age, and used to sing and dance when she walked past the Granada studios in South London with her Mum when she was a little girl.
Before punk, she had a record deal and I have just received this single (alas, minus the illustrated sleeve) which I bought from eBay the week Bowie died. One for the jukebox, when I've got one; I plan to win the lottery tonight!

Gig at the The Stuart Low Trust

It was a druich night in Islington, although the flower shop on the corner was bursting with gorgeous blooms of every colour and description, in anticipation of Valentine's Day.
I was looking forward to this gig; I have played there before on my own, with Martin and also taken a group of songwriting students along to play.
The people who go along on Friday are friendly and conversational; after sandwiches and fruit juice, plus a few announcements and the presentation of a leaflet on happiness and wellbeing, I started off with Three Maple Men and the gig began. The atmosphere was laid back and I could tell the stories about the songs; people asked about the lyrics (I love it when people listen) and the Telecaster twinkled like a musical star. I played the 'folk' version of 24 Hours, a couple of Helen and the Horns songs, but mostly now songs: the happier ones, for verily, it's February and who wants to be miserable? I was delighted to be told by one person at the end that I had cheered him up; he had come along feeling very down and left feeling much better. That's a good gig, innit?
The Trust has a series of events on Friday nights. It is a supportive and informal environment and it's the kind of place that you can go along to on your own. I am always very happy to play for them.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


All that writingandwriting....
My eyes decided yesterday that they were designed for staring at a small computer screen. They folded their arms and sat back smugly, having consolidated their purpose in one compact afternoon.
It was a trick!
Today, I needed them for drivinganddriving...
They weren't prepared. I should have sent them to the Girl Guides when they were teenagers.
On the M25 (M for misery, 25 the number of accidents per hour on it's circuit), they shook their heads angrily. Distances? Who said anything about distances?
They tried the 'looking at a computer screen' focus that they had perfected yesterday. Nope, that wan't going to work. By Aylesbury they had reluctantly repurposed, and by the M3 they were motorway eyes, enjoying the Surrey birch woods and the winter skies along the way.
We were headed for Winchester to pick up the Ermelinda Sylvestri guitar that Jimmy Cole had been mending. He has done a lovely job; the action is perfect and it has a funny little honk of a sound. It's giving me a song as we speak, and it seemed that Jimmy would miss it being around.
I passed by Portsmouth on the way home and found a proper carwash. Bliss! The green scrubbers rolled past and rolled over with much flagellating ado, but they haven't managed to shift the luxuriant algae that have taken up residence on the rubber seals around the windows.
There is so much building going on in Barnet that a fine pall of dust hovers over us all, coating our window ledges and cars like the fog of the 1950s. It's that George Osborne in his hard hat, sending out signals to his construction mates in the Lodge: 'You'll always be all right, guys, when I'm around in my hi-vis vest!'.
How I long for him to disappear in a puff of dust!

Tuesday, February 09, 2016


Two Sundays ago, I wrote for five hours. Today, I will have done so again. This is not music writing (I wish it was) but academic writing which needs to be finished soon for my sanity.
I keep thinking I'm done, and then I find a glitch to iron out.
At the moment, it's tone. I am being critical, but I want to be gracious about it.
I long for the punk punch- that verbal thwack, so swift and direct. But scholarly writing doesn't work like that; we have to twist and turn our way around existing obstacles of thought.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Suit U Up

With apologies to the Fast Show: but things have moved on quickly since then.

My name's Tommy Trotter and I work in Suit U Up, a shop in Jermyn Street where politicians  have been coming for many years to have their suits made-to-measure.
You'll recognise our suits; either dark grey or dark-dark-black-grey, they are a little on the tight side, and they all feature a loose buttonhole mid-belly. The chaps who wear our suits get out of their ministerial car, stand up, and touch their belly-button (see what I did just there?) with their right hand, very lightly, to make sure that it hasn't come undone.
We (Philip, the business owner, and myself) felt that Tony B was a little on the ostentatious side with this gesture,but Dave C has copied him religiously (we laugh when we think how much Dave C fancies Tony B, but that's for another time) and now it's kind of got into the performance side of things alongside running their hands through their Brylcreem and surreptitiously wiping the excess on their hankies.
A woman in a red coat came in a few weeks ago with a bearded chap in a shell suit. I think her name was Diana Priest, or something, and she was trying to persuade the guy to buy a suit from us. He ran a finger over a bolt of our best mohair suiting and winced as though he'd been stung by a wasp, then shuddered. They went over to Subway pretty quickly and I could see them arguing.
Suits aren't for everyone, are they?

Guitars and Photomontages

The Guitar Weekend was especially good this year, despite being held in February. Hats off to Martin, Jim and Brian.
The moment of the weekend was watching Brian dissect Fraser's guitar. Nobody breathed for a full ten minutes, knowing that Fraser is a respected member of the legal profession. It was tense, but the operation was successful and we all breathed again: a sigh of relief.
Yesterday evening I went to a talk by Linder Sterling about her work; Linder was the designer who collaged the wonderful Buzzcocks image of the naked woman with mouths on her breasts. Gina came along, and we listened to her describe her early work with porn mags and catalogues that eventually developed into ballets, work for Chanel, and what I found most interesting, work with carpets.
I wasn't convinced by the carpet/ballet crossover, but I was convinced by the carpet, which was utterly lovely, and had a gold underbelly.
On the way home I may or may not have accidentally shoplifted a lemon. The shopkeeper was on the phone and I did wave it around in front of his eyes, but the till was hidden by piles of stuff so I couldn't check.
I felt guilty, and then I didn't.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The Chefs at The Alhambra, Brighton

I had moved to London. Someone in my flat had been showing their friend my budgie, Toby, and they hadn't shut the door of my room.
The house cat got in, knocked the cage to the floor, and sank her teeth into the little bird.
Next morning, I held him in my hand to keep him warm and set off to the PDSA. He was still breathing (just) but on the way there he fixed me with a beady eye, stretched out, and died.
That night, I discovered that The Alhambra in Brighton had burned down.
That's how eras end; you think things will last forever, but they don't.