Monday, January 31, 2022

Teaching Illustrations

I looked at today's Powerpoint and thought it looked boring. The subject I'm teaching isn't at all.

Here are six twenty-second sketches I did to go with some of the slides. Once I'd added them it looked like I needed more, but there wasn't enough time.

Music technology developments and their relationship with songwriting; lyrics workshop; copyright; marketing; seminar; music industry feedback.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Glasgow in March at the Glad Café with Big Russ Wilkins and Lightnin' Holling


Leigh Bowery at the Fitzrovia Chapel

What a bijou little building it is, hidden away behind some hideous grey shiny lumpenbuildings on all four sides of it, towering and threatening to ordinaryise its sparkle! Once inside the chapel's rather unassuming red brick carapace, you're greeted by ornate and very beautiful tiling through out the whole interior, in colours so subtle that you're drawn into the designs rather than overwhelmed by them.

Putting on this tiny exhibition of Leigh Bowery's costumes at this location is a stroke of genius. There's not a lot here, but that's almost better: there is space around them to see them in their full splendour, and there is also a mini-documentary with former associates talking about him that you can sit and watch on folding wooden chairs. There were some gorgeous creatures there, too.

It was a perfect January snack of a visit: short, sweet and fulfilling!

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Half of Boiling Point

Work and play have both been intense lately, and seeing a film seemed like a good break from life from couple of hours. Boiling Point was showing at the Barnet Everyman yesterday morning, and having worked as kitchen staff a lot in my youth (I was never neat and tidy enough to be a waitress), and being intrigued by the one-shot camera technique, I overcame the embarrassment of being a solo film attendee (the ticket guy felt sorry for me and spoke to me like a doctor speaks to a sick child), and went along.

It begins with a bang. The stress starts straight away. Stephen Graham is a mesmerising actor, and he plays chef Andy Jones, a chef with a boiling-over life, absolutely pitch-perfectly. His foil is chef Vinette Robinson, who tries to keep the peace and calm while cauldrons full of tension seethe and bubble all around her. Oh, it's such a good film, so well-observed. The characters are totally believable, and the things that disrupt the smooth working of the kitchen and restaurant are so real. The passive aggression, the overt racism, the pulling of rank, the loss of temper, the lies and deception, the fear...

You can't disengage from that one long, long, sometimes flawed camera shot. It's you, there in the restaurant, living through it all, from the nasty triumphalism of the food inspector onwards. Everything you could cringe at is there, played out not just in language, voice and ace direction, but also in each actor's facial expressions. There is no woodenness here: every single member of the cast gives it 100%.

It was so good that I literally couldn't bear it. It encapsulated the drama of every job in an organisation. I recognised characters and behaviours from the University where I work, which is a completely different professional environment. The shifting pecking order, and the jostling for some sort of position of respect. The realism was so.. well, real. No: I could't bear it and I had to leave. 

Do go to see it, but don't tell me what happens at the end, because I'd like to see the whole thing through some other time, when my own life isn't quite so overpowering.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Crammed Tuesday

Being a thoroughly normal person, I wash clothes and dishes and cook in the kitchen. The room does, however, have another use: it's a recording studio. So while the washing machine was churning and spinning, I was importing backing tracks into my Logic programme on the computer on the kitchen table, and setting up the microphone to sing with. I had to wait for the machine noise to calm down before I could record the vocals.

One of the songs is a cover of an Amy Rigby song, Vote That F*cker Out, which has been given the analogue electronic treatment by Willie G so I can sing his adaptation of the lyrics, to be released before the local elections in May. I have to sound angry on that one, which is easy. I need to make some tweaks tomorrow, and then it's done.

The other is a topline for a track by Sarah Corina, who used to play bass for The Mekons and The Bomb Party, and who produced one of The Monochrome Set's albums. The chorus came to me in the middle of the night, and I wrote the verses later in the morning. There is a high harmony I need to do again; all that angry vocalising made me squeak, but in general I was quite happy with what came out.

Then of course, being a thoroughly normal person and university lecturer, I had to do some last-minute marking and input the data into the system. Checking my emails later, I found an urgent request from work to write a short piece about songwriting for The Conversationalist, prompted by the Twitter spat between Damon Albarn and Taylor Swift. My initial thought was 'No, I can't do it; there isn't time', but More 4 TV has reverted back to the beginning of the Minder series, and I can't face watching it again (I prefer the later episodes without the odious Terry character). So I wrote it, and who knows if they will publish it.

I then spoke to my foster cousin on the phone and was horrified by what he told me about the way his partner's body was disrespected after his death. Humans are still sometimes chaotic and downright primitive, no matter how much we tell ourselves that we have become sophisticated beings. That's all I can say about that: it threw a shadow over the afternoon. So now I'm in pensive mood; watching TV does not appeal, and nor does reading the sort of senseless crime paperbacks that I normally find so relaxing. 

I have a long list of things that I haven't done and that I'd hoped to do today. I will be isolating from next week onwards and I'm trying to set things up this week to make that easier. There is always tomorrow, and there is some compensation that the weather outside is cold, grey and gloomy. There's no incentive to leave the house. Inside is cold, grey and gloomy too, but not quite as bad it is out there!

Monday, January 24, 2022

Finishing Poster for Glasgow Gig in March

Sunday Drawing Club was so full of interesting stories and banter last night that I made a mistake on this. It's almost finished though.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Mentioned in Mojo

Now I know they read their Tweets! My book appeared in an answer to a question in this month's Mojo.

This means a lot to me- I have been subscribing to it for years.


Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Starting A Gig Poster


Barnet Versus Chesterfield

The conflict in a football game is a metaphor of what happens in real life, played out by a team of players who have individual personalities and goals that are simultaneously operated in service of the team winning, and that of personal development and glory.

This is why it's so cathartic to go to a match. It's also a place where you can shout and yell at the top of your voice, and that's normal. Something that is seen as completely antisocial in everyday life has a place and time where it's almost de rigeur.

It was Offsprog Two's suggestion, and we nearly changed our minds because I have friends who (I think) picked up Covid at a football match, but we decided to go even though it was cold and foggy.

The Barnet ground used to be in Barnet, just down from the tube station. I still really miss it- the chants that swelled up the hill on wintry Saturday afternoons, the super-bright lights that shone through the gloom as you drew into the station after a day's work on a Tuesday. The sloping pitch itself, and the terraces. The mad fans, home or away, who one day raced down the High Street into a bathroom shop. One of them sat on a toilet in the window display roaring with laughter, his mates in the street doubled up with glee.

The stadium moved several years ago. It stopped being a spontaneous decision to go. I'd seen Arsenal play a 'friendly' in which they scored (I think) 18 goals against a team that they consistently cherry-pick the best players from, in a really ungracious victory that passed the Arsenal fans by. I'd seen a lot of losing, but also a lot of good playing.

The new stadium is in Stanmore, almost, and is difficult to get to. I had to drive, which is an activity that I have been trying to cut down on. A talkative crow gave me detailed instructions about how to use the parking payment machine, which were more easy to understand that the printed instructions on the machine itself.

We walked with the other fans down to the stadium in a cold fug of alcohol and Chesterfield accents. They knew they were going to win, but we had gone to watch a match and support Barnet, so that didn't matter.

In the first half, Chesterfield conserved their energy, watching to see which Barnet players to take out. In the second half, they got number 19. I said to Offsprog Two, 'Watch number 11: they'll get him next'. Sure enough, they did. Also, pushing players when the referee's attention is occupied elsewhere is not a good look, and there was rather a lot of that going on.

The Chesterfield away fans were in full voice and celebrated the triumph of four goals with roars and chants that practically blew the top off the away shed. The Barnet fans took a dislike to their player number 22, a tall chap with a ponytail who was giving instructions to the team. 'Look out for number 22!' shouted one of our number. I don't think the referee needed to be told, because at one point number 22 had laughed in his face.

Got to hand it to the Barnet team, they carried on regardless. They have plenty of stamina and they defended consistently throughout the game, even though they were playing a clearly more experienced team.

About ten minutes before the game finished, some disappointed Barnet fans began to drift away, including dads'n'kids. I did feel that was a bad life lesson, to bail out before the game has finished when you're losing.

It was a bad decision too, because in the last two minutes Barnet gave us a goal. What a masterpiece of defiance. I loved that. 

It was better than winning, and you should have heard the cheer we gave them!

Monday, January 17, 2022


We didn't do Sunday Drawing Club last night but I think a few of us drew privately at home anyway. I did! This is a drawing inspired by one of Lorraine Bowen's songs. She has put backing tracks on her Bandcamp so people can sing along, and she asked for illustrations of the lyrics. This song is called Lemon Disinfectant and you can listen to the full song here:

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Mr And Mrs White Goose: The End Of The Story?

Mr White Goose had been at the pond for a long as I can remember, and during lockdown he and his first wife, Mrs White Goose, became part of our lives. We regularly visited them on lockdown walks, and they got used to us. We got to know the Fishing Man, who was irritating because he wasn't supposed to fish there ('No Fishing', said the huge notice on the wall at the back of the pond). The rich people's servants from the house that backed on to the pond used to sit on a bench and chat to the majestic feathery couple on warm summer evenings.

Then one day, disaster struck: Mrs White Goose was gone, and all that was left was a sad little pile of snowy feathers. The fox had been, and carried her off to a terrible destiny. Mr White Goose was distraught. He shouted and hissed, calling out for days. The Irritating Fisherman told us that she had been exhausted by laying eggs (which were also gobbled up by the hungry fox), and hadn't been able to escape.

About ten days later, a new Mrs White Goose appeared. She had angel wing, which means that a wing fails to develop properly and sticks out sideways. This is what waterfowl suffer from when we humans feed them white bread: it's not a good diet for ducks and geese, let alone humans.

Mr White Goose gently courted Mrs White Goose 2. They sailed quietly through the water for a few days, socially distanced. They weren't sure. The nibbled grass together, and gradually became companions. Together, they bullied the ducks. Together, they shrieked at the horrid heron that hunched on the duck house staring them out. Together, they honked at us aggressively because they Don't Know How To Be Nice.

We got used to Mrs White Goose 2 and her oddly architectured wing.

Well, on Boxing Day me and the Offsprogs went for a walk. Over towards the pond, a large white pile lay lifeless on the side. 'Probably just plastic bags', swerved Offsprog Two. Alas, the next day I went up on my own. The carcass of Mrs White Goose 2 had been removed, and there was a pale drift of small feathers scattered on the ground.

The fox had been back, and with her poor wing she had been helpless. Mr White Goose called and called for her: it was heartbreaking.

And then one day, he too had gone. We think think that he has gone to a sanctuary. I hope he has, anyway. Now, there are some elegant Canada geese, who are safe to swish about on the water without being ordered to go away.

It's just not the same up there any more.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Little Heart-Shaped People from Venus


I Found My Lyrics Book

I found the lyrics book that I thought I'd thrown away. There are no lyrics in it. I am crestfallen by this. I had imagined perfect songs wending their way to the recycling plant, being burnt to ash and smoke, and reaching the heavens as a series of poetic atoms.

What a shame.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Hooray! A Proper Record In The Post

The Covid-ridden Barnet Post Office has erratic opening hours. It was closed for two days before Christmas, open for two hours one day, closed again for two days... you'd think they'd realise that wearing masks might stop them infecting each other. The maskless woman behind the counter looked really offended that I was standing two metres back from her when I posted a parcel the other day. For them there is no pandemic, just individual infections with a mystery illness. Again. And Again. And again.

So we receive very little post. Every so often, even at this stage in January, a couple of Christmas cards appear. Offsprog Two's beautiful felt stuffed facsimile of her beloved cat, made to console Offsprog One, never arrived: we just have the photo. I ordered Darlene Love's autobiography, also for Offsprog One. Alibris very generously refunded me. It's probably at the bottom of a compost-heap of Christmas presents that remain undelivered. 

This, however, arrived yesterday. What a triumph! I am so looking forward to listening to it. Maybe Subway Sect have their own postal service!

Primary School

My Primary School in Wylam was brutal. Teachers were allowed to hit us, and the punishment most commonly meted out to me was being held by the shoulders and shaken until my teeth rattled. This made me giggle with fear, so of course I got shaken even harder.

Little things made me happy, often colours. A girl whose hair was flaxen blonde (I'd never seen anyone like that before). A boy with an orange sweatshirt. There were curiosities. One little boy wore grey flannel shorts and a formal shirt, with what was obviously his father's tie. Every day the tie worked its way down through his shorts, and appeared with yellow and red pointed glee out of the bottom of them, flapping  joyously about his legs as he ran around the playground. 

Dyson Vaccuum Cleaners

Really. What crap they are. You have to sweep up after them, and have a special bent coat hanger to empty out the dust and fluff. 

Using it wrongly? I think not. 

I have been cleaning floors for many more woman hours than you, Mr Dyson, and if your squad of testers say these machines are OK, they are nothing but a bunch of sycophants!

Tuesday, January 11, 2022


Is there such a thing as hyper-zen? I've just driven a round trip from Barnet through Fulham, Battersea and Camberwell and back again, including a 30-minute traffic jam just to cross Camberwell Green.

Most of the route had a speed limit of 20 miles an hour, and at almost every traffic light it seemed there was a frantic young man in a small car revving his engine because he HAD TO GET AWAY FIRST. 


I sat behind the wheel, a placid lump, pootling along at twenty. 

Green light ahead? Accelerate to 25? Not me! Pootle, pootle, pootle. Wipers on, wipers off, drizzle, rain, nothing.

Glide around the corners, ease on the brakes. Slowly, I pass the Me-Firsters. They have rushed, revved, thrusted and hurried, but they are only a car in front of me. How did that happen?

I don't actually care, really, because I am hyper-zen. Slowly, I pull into my street, gently park and lock the car.

Stress. What is that?

Sociopaths Have Feelings Too!

I was astonished at one of the many Tory party scandals just before Christmas. They have been coming so thick and fast that I've lost track of them, and I'm sure you have too.

Anyway at this particular one in the series, Sajid Javid had been invited on to the BBC Breakfast show to talk (I think) about something else. But he was 'too upset', and declined to appear.

Now, apparently, senior executives at KPMG are 'upset' that the financial regulator has found them to have been at fault in the Carillion accounting scandal.

Why the poor little lambies!

Under those sharp dark grey suits and hiding behind those monstrous incomes and hills of cocaine, are tender-hearted wee babbies who feel pain just like the rest of us!


Thoughts Inspired By Dry January

I stopped drinking before I was 50. 
Booze is a great cushion, a great drug. 
It enters your life with an air of sophistication, guilt, daring, promise, and exits with shame and humiliation.
I stopped because I realised that it had halted my life (and that of others) in a very dark place, and that escaping from that and making changes that would protect people that I am responsible for, was more important than carrying on with a pretence that a situation that looked safe to outside observers, did not feel at all safe from the inside.
I caught myself drinking the dregs of some particularly delicious wine when I was tidying up alone after a party. 'What a terrible waste', I told myself. But halfway through it, I started wondering if there was a problem with what I was doing.
Very soon after that, I stopped completely. I learned how to surreptitiously tip a glass of wine down the sink, and I learned that it was better to accept an alcoholic drink and not drink it, than to try to explain what had changed. 
I have never been sure whether to categorise myself as an alcoholic. I sometimes yearn on a hot day for a Spanish beer with a slice of lime in the top. I like the taste of alcohol in stews and baked things. But the idea of re-learning how to drink wine escapes me, and the idea of changing my conscious thoughts by drinking alcohol has completely vanished.
I can never bring myself to moralise about this, because I know how much I loved getting pissed. Personally, I don't miss it, and I still enjoy the company of drinkers until they get to that point where they are so drunk that they repeat themselves over and over again: but that happens very rarely. 
In general, drinking company is convivial company.
I have met two recovering alcoholics who never completed the 12-step programme, and who pretend that they have. Alcohol makes sly people of us all. 
I could indeed by lying now, couldn't I?

Saturday, January 08, 2022

Buses In The Rain

If you travel by bus, especially on a rainy day, that's the way you get to know an area whether rural, town or city. Margaret Thatcher was famously disparaging about people who caught buses, but actually you come into contact with real people when you travel by public transport, and you come across even more real people if you travel off the beaten track. 

Buses are slow travel. There you will meet elders, schoolchildren, young mothers or fathers with toddlers and children in pushchairs, people with disabilities and their carers, all the people who are hidden away from mainstream advertising, and who are trodden on by rich men in tailored suits who think about money and cocaine all the time.

In some parts of London, the upstairs back-of-the-bus is a youth club. Groups of teenagers with school bus passes can spend a whole evening travelling around the route listening to music that plays from their phones and singing along at the tops of their voices. I wonder how much crime is averted because of this?

You hand your fate over to the traffic. You can't rush a bus: road rage is futile. Your driver sets the mood, and you say thank you when you disembark. Thank you, public transport.


I'd almost forgotten. Through a paned window at Capel Manor, there was a wall with life-size models of horses heads hanging on it with bridles draped on them. There were saddles, too. There was something Gormenghast about it all. It must have been a teaching tack room, I think, and it's begging to be drawn.

Fact: when we were little, McDad used to take us to the Hancock Museum in Newcastle. There was a wall of stuffed animal heads, and the first time we went there with him, he told us that on the wall in the next room we would see the rest of their bodies.

Friday, January 07, 2022

The Prime Minister Of The United Kingdom

What do we have? A man like that children's game where you blow up a balloon and let it go. It shoots rapidly around the four corners of the room, up and down, diagonally, farting as it goes, barging into things and knocking them off the shelves at random, and ending up an empty and useless sac on the floor.

What do we need? A statesperson, able to imagine the future, able to manage money and social issues including health, culture and education. Someone with dignity, and some good in their soul.

Is despair too strong a word for it?

Thursday, January 06, 2022

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Capel Manor On A Sunny January Afternoon

It's a pain in the bum having to take a malfunctioning laptop across London to be fixed, but it's marking season and I have a pile of work to do. The computer said 'no' and I needed an engineer to persuade it otherwise.
When I got home, the resident poorly person reminded me that we had a plan to visit Capel Manor Gardens in Enfield, and it was such a lovely sunny day the thought was irresistible. We spent an hour marvelling at the variety of plants, shrubs and trees, which look just as good in winter as they surely will in spring and beyond. It's an agricultural college and I peered through a window through which you could see plaster horses heads poking out of the walls, draped in bridles and other horsy accoutrements. There is a small zoo featuring a white crow, and two Scottish wildcats who are there as part of a conservation programme. They were hungry, and were glaring at anything they thought might be worth hunting. One of them emitted some very deep 'miaows'. There is a small maze, and we managed to get to the viewing platform and back without crying- or cheating, as we did in Kielder Forest when we went with Kenji and Till.
What a lovely place. I'm looking forward to going back in spring.

Two chaps winter gardening; an avenue of pleached limes; a small alpine house; a triangular flowerbed, one of three; scented witch hazel; white barked birch; giant thistles.

Monday, January 03, 2022

Every Single Black Comb

I have tangly black and white hair on my head that it takes a sturdy comb to plough through. In the last couple of weeks I thought I'd lost every single tough-guy black comb that could fight through this mess. It was an upsetting mystery that nibbled away at my psyche as I went about everyday tasks.

I've just found them all, hidden horizontally behind some empty bottles. The bastards. What a time to play hide and seek!

I Threw Away My Lyrics Book

I had a big clear-out of papers and things before Christmas to make some space, and I think I threw away a lyrics book. This could be a disaster, but I've done stuff like leaving one on the tube after a long day at work, so it's not such a terrible thing. I think of these things a life's natural edits.

I have been listening through to my three-quarters-finished album today at the kitchen table. Offsprog One has her friend round so I listened quietly. Two things happened: firstly, through listening after weeks away from it, stuff that I thought was not very good seems much better. Secondly, listening at such a low volume meant that it was really obvious what I have to redo. For instance, a song where I thought the guitar rhythms were off-kilter, it was actually the vocal feel that wasn't right.

I have entirely lost the Logic file of one of the songs, but it's not such a hard one to start again with. It was heartening to listen through the album, actually: listening re-booted the bit of me that gets all used up by teaching. All I need is a clear day to sing on, a sunny day and a bird-throat mood, and I can do both the vocals that are missing and replace the dodgy ones. I have a guitar part that finishes a couple of bars before then end for no apparent reason, but that's just a pure guitar'n'vocal song so that will be a case of supple fingers and determination. I am thinking about guest musicians and what they might do. I feel motivated, dude.

(As I walked up from the tube station today, a very posh mummy was saying to her son 'I do wish you would stop using that word dude, darling'.

2000 Year Old Yew Tree

This tree in Totteridge is reputed to be 2000 years old. It must have lived through so much change- and it's still sprouting new growth. Decorated by fairy lights in the churchyard, it loomed out of the drizzle as a majestic reminder of the passing of time and the ultimate insignificance of humanity with our silly little lives, staring at miniature screens so hard that a lot of the time we don't notice the beauty around us. Big guy, we noticed you yesterday in your rainy garden, and we love you.

Sunday, January 02, 2022

Working The New Year In

Every year I spend New Year's Day marking student work. I don't know why: it just happens that way. Being an academic is weird, because you have huge influxes of work at times when other people are holidaying. Last Christmas, for instance, I spent the week before Christmas marking, and then the entire Christmas period attending to corrections the subeditor wanted in my book. I knew if I didn't work on it then, it would never be finished: time was chasing it from behind. At times I was almost in tears of frustration, and there was no time to recover from doing all that, because the new term started and I was straight into working again.

I am hoping to spend a bit of time working on my new album, but I will have to work on it very quickly and intensely. I know what I want it to sound like, and I also know it will have to be recorded in between a lot of other things that need time and energy. I have chosen the songs and deliberately stopped writing anything else temporarily, because if I do I'll interrupt the flow of what I've chosen and try to shoehorn in one of the new ones.

January is full of pandemic and other question marks, and around them life will continue in some form of normality, or abnormality.