Monday, February 28, 2022

Man With Plastic Head

Spotted in the wonderful Stratford Centre last week, drawn at Sunday Drawing Club last night.

Sunday, February 27, 2022


Ever since the onset of the pandemic my sense of personal space (which was already very sensitive), has been even more alert to invasion, both physical and psychological. And It was rather tone-deaf under the geopolitical circumstances of our local Russia-funded (!) MP to do a tour of local doorsteps yesterday. She is a mistress of the art of charming smiles and blanking anything she doesn't want to hear. 

My doorstep, tho. My words to say back, and Offsprog One's. The door was shut very firmly in her face.

I just hope there's none of her breath in my home. 

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Babes in the Woods

Plenty of weirdness in the woods yesterday. A discarded wooden triceratops semi-hidden in dried leaves, and an odd sprite cuddled into the root of a tree. What strange ritual has been going on?

Friday, February 25, 2022

Dreaming a Song

After months of not writing any songs I dreamt a song last night. This happens occasionally, and it's always part of a dream-drama. Usually it's a song that someone is singing in the dream, either on stage or sometimes singing it especially for me. This particular song was an accompanying soundtrack, in the manner of Monsieur Hulot although slower.

In my dream I was at the dream railway station (you know, the same non-existent place that regularly features in your dreams). I was waiting for a train to Milton Keynes to do a gig, and I had my guitar with me.

In an earlier dream the same night, I hadn't packed away the guitar lead properly and it seemed to get longer and longer as I stuffed it into the case, so much so that I ended up being unable to zip up the pocket at the front of the case that's designed to hold guitar leads. I'd just left it partly open as a result, with the lead coiled mockingly and peeping out of the top.

Anyway the train I was due to get was the 5 o'clock train, and I left my unwieldy guitar with it's dangling leads in the waiting room to go to the concourse and look at the train indicator board, which was a fetching old-fashioned one made of wood with ivory-coloured sections a bit like those boards they have in churches with the hymn numbers slotted into them.

I was somehow so absorbed by looking at the train times that I actually missed the train. Somewhere in my consciousness, I knew this was just a dream, so I rushed to the waiting room to get my guitar, convinced that I could catch the train anyway, because the dream could scroll back to a time when I hadn't missed it. But the dream wasn't playing ball. The hands of the old-fashioned waiting room clock said five o'clock, and I was too late no matter how much I tried to run.

A few weeks ago in real life I missed a train and my ticket was one of those non-transferable ones where you have to get a new one. With a sinking heart, I realised that I'd done it again. Then I hit on a ruse! 

I reached up, took the clock from the wall and spun the hands round to ten minutes to five. Clever me! I could say the clock had stopped before five and it wasn't my fault! Give me a free ticket for the next train!

All this time a little tune was playing in the background. Gradually I woke up, prompted by the alarming addition to the dream of a passenger who had gone into the waiting room just after I'd left, seen the clock set at five o'clock, and blew the whistle on my ruse. Dammit! Caught in a lie, missed the train and probably the gig too.

I'm still singing the little tune in my head. It reminds me of an early Beatles melody, and the next thing that happens is that I wait for the lyrics to show up. They will probably arrive on the next train.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Up Early

I'm up early to do an online student tutorial: alas, the student is not up early. All the more time for blogging! I'm two thirds of the way through a second article for The Conversation, this time about women instrumentalists, but it needs a rest for the time being so I can collect my thoughts. It's bristling with citations and I got stuck on whether to include an out-of-print book or not. The editor will tell me.

Probably like a lot of other people, I have been avoiding the news. It is deeply ironic that it appears to be those British people who are fixated on the Second World War due to a type of nostalgia for 'wartime spirit' (which is actually nationalism, and it's ugly sister jingoism), who can't see that we have a government and a leader who are actively pro-eugenics (let only the strong survive!), racist, and financially corrupt to a horrific degree. Who in history has been such a person? Hitler, of course. You know, that evil guy that plucky little Blighty and her army, navy and air force overthrew!

Our very own Evil Guy had a huge portrait photograph on the front page of the London Evening Standard on Monday. I picked one up at the station, but could not bring myself to read it. He is a very powerful and frightening man, all dressed up in a clown costume. I've always hated clowns, always sensed a sort of evil narcissism behind their desperation for attention, and this one is no exception. The owner of the newspaper is a person who should be being sanctioned. Now wonder he is being visibly obsequious.

Oops- I didn't mean to go off in that direction! It's just that going anywhere at the moment means diving into a pool of virus, and viruses are just as clever as the horrible clown. They mutate, like he does. They wear a harmless costume and we need to learn to live with them, just like we are being told that we need to learn to live with him. They only attack the weak (and hence, deserving), just like the Tories do. They thus cause endless divisions between the sick and the well, just like the very personal and political divisions that are multiplying in our communities for so many reasons (so very Coronavirus, with its' 3-6-9-12 infection rate).

The bottom line is that I'm really upset by people that I'd assumed were compassionate demonstrating an angry harshness that makes it impossible to interact with them. And look what I've just written! Angry and harsh! Have I become infected with that fatal virus, Conservatism? 

Over my dead body! (is that tempting fate?)

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

In Which Comedy Tries To Trump Tragedy; are three heads better than one?

On my way to work yesterday I saw an old guy wearing a fabulous suit printed with dollar bills. He knew he looked good, and was dancing, almost, instead of walking. 

On the way back, I saw this guy, who was more than happy to have his photo taken.

Then this morning, my phone autocorrected the word 'think' to 'hope honk'.

Amongst all the awfulness there are chinks of humour and well... hope.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Brighton to Newcastle on a Honda 90

When I was at art college in Brighton I had a boyfriend with a Honda 90, which was quite a handy vehicle to have because of those hippy parties in little cottages in Sussex. The police stopped us once, because I was singing The Robin Hood Theme at the top of my voice from my pillion position and they thought I was in distress.

The boyfriend thought it would be a good idea to ride from Brighton to Newcastle to visit McMum and McDad, and I never said 'no' to an adventure. It was sunny when we set off from the south coast, and I can't even remember the 'through London' part of the journey. I do remember having very cold arms: the wind blew up my sleeves and my elbows locked in a painful rictus from time to time. I can still feel it now.

As we headed northwards, the wind blew up, and a storm began to rage around us. The wind howled and blew us from side to side and the rain lashed against our exposed faces and battered them until they were raw. Slowly we hummed along, heads bent down and soaked through in our inadequate clothing. Somewhere south of Yorkshire, small saplings had started to fall across the road and the visibility was so poor that we actually rode over them, bouncing right up in the air and landing hard as a challenge to the bike's suspension. We must have stopped to refuel and to eat, but I don't recall that. I just remember the feeling of endlessness, as we relentlessly drove on. We'd set off early morning and he'd calculated that we'd get there by mid-evening. Mathematics was not his strong point, and he was older than me so I trusted him.

On and on: it got very dark and the rain slashed sideways. The heavy gusts almost toppled us, but we didn't stop. 

Then the bike died.

We were somewhere in north Yorkshire, a small village. 'Phone your Dad', he said. It was the wee small hours, and by then I was so fatigued that I'd lost all sense of perspective. I found a phone box and phoned a very angry and worried parent, who hats off to him, got into the car and came to collect us with a stern unspeaking tolerance.

Next day, the weather was that type of innocent that only post-storm weather can be. The sun smiled and the world was at peace. We took multiple single-decker red buses to the little village, where the Honda 90 was parked where we'd left it, nestled into a hedge of tumbling roses complete with visiting bees.

Needless to say, that boyfriend was not popular with McMum and McDad. He rode the moped home alone to Brighton, and I got the train. On the morning that he was due to leave, McMum pointedly put his luggage out in the garden with his coat on top, ready to go.

It's these storms that remind me of that particular adventure. We had others. He was a completely unsuitable boyfriend, but I came from a completely unsuitable family, so how was I to know?

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Xylophone Busker, Waterloo Tube Station

This chap was busking on Thursday as I hurried though the station. He played a mysterious little melody that played in my head for hours afterwards, and was quite happy for me to take his photograph.


Friday, February 18, 2022

Landing in Hurricane-Force Winds

During my time of max-fear of flying, I was invited to the University of Limerick to talk about my academic work on women punks. The organisers booked my flights and I took a deep breath and went for it. 

As the plane came in for landing at Limerick airport, I could feel it tipping like a rocking cradle, and we swerved wildly from side to side; it looked as though we were going to miss the runway. 'What a crap pilot', I thought, and started to dread the journey home. We did manage a very bumpy landing, and when I got to the hotel I switched on the TV, only to find that we had landed in hurricane-force winds!

Needless to say, I've been mesmerised by the live feed of aircraft landing at Heathrow today.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022


This is my new word game 'Curdle', which I do not know how to play. I have just invented it while playing around with my advanced programming skills in my farmhouse. I have no intention of selling it on, particularly not to the New York Times.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Singing and Singing

We were stir-crazy last night and Offsprog One suggested a spot of karaoke. We bellowed our way through Jolene (what great verse lyrics! I'd never realised what poetry they are), I'm Just a Teenage Dirtbag, For Once In My Life and Free (by Destiny's Child: so many words!). And more. It was both weird and exhilarating at the same time.

Then today when I was on my way to work today and travelling through Camden Town to change trains, a young man was singing in the street with his guitar. His voice was mega-amplified. It seemed like he was staking out his territory with sound, which was impossible to escape from. Heartless, soulless Brit-School melisma forced its way into the cracks of my consciousness, relentless in its volume: you could hear him streets away. 

I love hearing buskers singing with their natural voices into the air around them, mingling their tunes with the sounds of passing transport and the pavement conversations of city-dwellers. I understand how a performer might not want to be drowned out by these things. But my thoughts were so drowned out by his noisemaking, that I felt like bribing him to turn his amplifier down.

Then I worried about the thin walls at home. Did we invade the neighbour's Sunday evening meditations with our jolly caterwauling? The boundaries between noise and music are indistinct and tenuous. Maybe we should learn to sing in whispers. Whisper-singing: there's a thing.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Magwa the Hero Rat

Magwa (no longer with us) used to sniff out land mines.

From Sunday Drawing Club.

Sunday Service

I am unexpectedly at home a lot at the moment, thinking; there is something therapeutic about this, frustrating though it sometimes feels. I can feel my brain stretching, measuring, comparing, mulling...

Early this morning in a bout of insomnia, I thought about my (our) parents. This was simulated by my friend Laura from over the Atlantic Ocean sending photographs she'd found while tidying up her Dad's belongings after he passed away a few weeks ago. There were some I'd never seen and I started thinking about her parents and my own, who had very similar levels of contentment.

Being at home with the news being piped relentlessly into the house through a stream of channels- it literally feels that it's leaking bad news through every crack in a floorboard and badly-fitting door- makes you aware of just how angry people are.

A lot of this is justified, but it's stirred up by people who are playing the angry people's feelings as a sport. They have the money to fund campaigns that disrupt society because when society is disrupted, very rich people get richer. All that anger energy is basically being farmed, isn't it? Look at who is making money during the pandemic, and who is suffering.

I watch people I know become furious and blame anything they can lay their hands and eyes on- refugees, men, women, teenagers, people from Black and Asian communities, Germans and Austrians (something to so with a war in the LAST CENTURY, sorry for angry capitals), people poorer than them (benefits, you know), Jewish people, people from the gay and lesbian and + communities, disabled people (there is a horrible eugenics thread going alongside the 'learning to live with Covid' narrative that has led to me feeling ashamed of some of the people that I know), intellectuals, people who grow high hedges outside their houses (I know!), people whom they think have had better luck in their lives, wealthy Southerners. You name it, there's blame to be had, and anger to be laid at a doorstep.

Through all this, I have come to realise that my far-from-perfect parents were contented. They didn't complain about each other. They had enough time to help other people (a lot). They were really involved in politics in a very principled way, and acted accordingly rather than telling people what they should be doing all the time. They didn't need to shout from the rooftops, and they taught us by example to accept people who were different to us, and to try to understand them.

At the moment, this is quite a wearying approach. I have always needed a lot of peace, quiet and solitude to process living in a world with so many opinions and feelings cascading down upon my head. I suppose I have music as an outlet: I can be quite forthright and keep to certain principles. More on that another time. I need a cup of tea.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

The Fat Hedges Of Barnet

Thought you could walk on the pavement? Think again! The good citizens of Barnet trim their hedges carefully so that they take up half the pavement, just in case pedestrians thought they could walk two abreast. There are handy apertures in the hedges so the house-owners can scuttle out to their 4x4s to go to the gym, but apart from that, it's Keep Out, Strangers! Box, Privet, Cotoneaster, Bay, Rhododendron: it's a unanimous 'NO'. 

Keep Out! Go to a place far from here if you want to walk around the streets! 


Yesterday I was reading a book, sitting in a chair in pool of light. I felt a sharp and very unpleasant pain on the skin of my stomach. Shocked, my hand flew to the painful spot, and I felt a crack. What was happening? Had I acquired some vile pustule since the morning?

I'd been concentrating heavily on the book; in my head I'd been in Glasgow with the protagonists, dreading the next move that was surely going to land them in Big Trouble.

But this was terrible! I stood up and walked through to the bathroom to investigate. 

I fumbled with my jumper. Then I stopped in my tracks. What a fool. I'd been eating potato crisps and obviously one had dropped down inside my clothes and had sharply stabbed me as it cracked in half.

This is what it feels like to have a built-in 'fool factor' that overshadows anything noble or clever that I might ever achieve in my life.

Friday, February 11, 2022

The Sweet Hymn

After Sunday School, the church elder asked me to stay on for a few minutes. McMum and McDad were hovering around having tea or something.

He had a small, grey, portable reel-to-reel tape recorder and a big microphone. My job was to stand there and sing a sweet hymn acapella for him to record. I did what I was told. I was a good girl.

As I sang, he held the microphone pointed towards me with a trembling hand. He seemed tall and portly in his dark banker's jacket and pinstriped trousers, and I was small and skinny. He had a thick bushy grey-blonde moustache above full juicy lips. I did not know where to look, and eventually I looked into his eyes, behind his gold rimmed spectacles. They were watering with a sort of yearning that I did not understand. A smile trickled about his mouth.

Afterwards he packed away the little tape recorder and said 'Thank you' and went off.

I knew something was wrong, and I had given him my voice to store away and listen to, but I had been powerless to refuse.

Years later at my sister's wedding in Edinburgh I saw him again, still clad in his black banker's jacket and pinstriped trousers. Everyone had left the church and made their way to the hotel where the reception was being held. I realised that he must have been quite young back then, even though he had seemed old to me. A very long, thick white hair was growing from the very middle of the bridge of his nose: just one.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Microphone Stands

Microphone stands are second only to deckchairs in the annoyingness charts. Actually no- perhaps third, with music stands far out there in front of both of them.

But microphone stands- they require superhuman strength to tighten the components, otherwise they very, very slowly start to sag with that kind of ''f*ck you' look in their eyes than only a toddler deliberately peeing on the floor gives you. Even the lightest-weight microphone is too heavy for their delicate constitution. Like a giraffe's neck they gently bow over, usually when you're halfway through a really good vocal take that you're never going to be able to replicate. Perish the thought that you might try to engage the beast with a heavier-duty microphone! Microphone stand says 'NO!'. With a swooping motion, the stand collapses in rapid refusal.

Ok. So maybe you manage to balance everything well enough to get the damn thing to hold the microphone for just that few tantalising minutes that you need to record the song. Triumph! You think you've beaten the bastard!

Until the next time you try to erect the stand. It's decided that the screw threads have had enough. There's no way any part of it is going to hold anything up now. No, not after the way you made it work so hard the last time! No way! You'll have to buy a brand new microphone stand!

Same thing again. Microphone stands are second only to deckchairs in the.... (ad infinitum)

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

Trees Twist And Shout

Very slowly over decades and eventually centuries, trees dance. We can't catch them at it, because we move at the pace of a wasp's wings as far as trees are concerned. Our long days and weeks last milliseconds of treetime: we can't register their playfulness, not matter how slowly we move. Our lives are mere blurs as the trees dance languidly and majestically, twisting and shouting in their own time, throwing their twigs and branches to the heavens with joy. 

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Reading Rubbish

During the pandemic, and indeed before all that, I have steadily read my way through the entire crime and thriller shelves of the local charity shops. Good ones, bad ones and mediocre ones; the books with pretentious quotations at the beginnings of sections that try in vain to rescue floundering prose; the books aimed at men, with feeble and vacuous female characters; the books aimed at women, with awful caricatured male leads.

I rarely abandon a book. It seems churlish after all the effort that a write has expended on plotting, writing and delivering, but I have learned to avoid certain writers. No Lynda la Plante, for instance: she is a Daily Mail Tory and her views are obnoxious, even filtered through made-up stories. There is another female writer whose name escapes me, who seems to write with a pen dipped in pure spite and who actually makes you feel grubby while you're reading her work.

There are writers who you wish could write twice as fast, although you know their books wouldn't be so carefully constructed if they did: Val McDairmid, Tara French, Ian Rankin and Mick Herron, for instance. And John Grisham manages to be educational as well as gripping; I feel as though I've learned a lot about the US political system and the way its entwined in dirty business from his books.

I have a revolving door-system: one in, one out. Or I thought that I did: the pile of 'I'm going to read this again' books seems to get higher every week.

Why am I writing this? I am three quarters of the way through book that is struggling to be interesting. None of the characters are engaging and I don't care what happens. Do I carry on to the end of the book just to experience book-time and a sense of completion, or do I give up and consign it to the 'back to the charity shop' pile? 

I had to get up early for the washing machine repairer (it's fixed now and burbling in the background), and the convalescing resident's not up yet. I haven't the energy for the half-finished album this morning, the coffee is disgusting (it's from year-old pack that turned up last week), and I need a break before starting work, which always spills over into not-work time.

OK, that's it. Finish the rubbish book, finish the coffee and start the day. A plus tard! 

Played by Gideon Coe Last Night


Friday, February 04, 2022

Slide Rule

Life at the moment is like a slide rule. Nights are not for sleeping and daytimes have random timetables that don't fit in with what anyone else is doing.

I have been very tired and as a consequence, I'm doing everything really slowly to make sure I don't make any mistakes. I'm still getting stuff wrong but it would probably be worse if I was running at the normal speed.

Oh, I'm so looking forward to being out there gigging again. Like a lot of people, I desperately need fun. I've been finding it in nooks and crannies but I want the full-fat version!

This is the track that I sang on for Willie G, proceeds to the Good Law Project. It's actually Bandcamp Friday too, which I'd completely forgotten. Next time, next time.

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

The Blues

There has been a lot of difficult stuff going on that is too private to blog about. I decided to do something positive to try to change just a tiny thing to make things better. Something small, relaxing and empowering in the home, the way the TV shows tell you. 

I had an old pale blue bedspread that has always been better than any replacement I might find. It's seen better days but it's big and useful, and refreshing it by re-dyeing it was going to do the trick. I went to the hardware shop and bought two large tubs of royal blue wash'n'dye, crammed the bedspread into the washing machine with them, and sat back waiting for magic to happen. I would start the evening with pale blue worn out bedding, and end it with a vibrant new look! What could possibly go wrong?

After a long time, I peeked into the big dark glass eye of the machine and the bedspread still seemed to be the same colour. There was an odd smell, too, and I realised that the machine was on a 'dry' cycle. Opening the door, I saw a dry, undyed bedspread and a host of baked grains of dye that had clumped together in a hideous mess. The machine had rebelled in the only way it knew how.

The only thing to do was to set it off again and try to reactivate the dye (I thought).

Three hours later, the machine beeped a mournful alarm sound into the kitchen and flashed it's little lights in pain. 

I opened the door and there lay a sodden, streaked bedspread in a soupy mess of blue water. I hauled it out into the sink, flooding the kitchen floor in the process, and tried to run a 'spin' cycle to drain the blue soup from the drum of the machine. It was't going anywhere. 

'Beep! Beep!' it alarmed.

After a rest to recover, I managed to wrestle the bedspread into the back yard, where is is perched threateningly on a  bin bag. Reluctantly, I phoned the washing machine repair family.

It was their answering machine. 'I am sorry, we have been exposed to Covid this week, and will not be able to do any work until further notice'.


Tuesday, February 01, 2022

Lecturing Online Again

So there you sit, talking mostly to photographs (are they actually there, listening?), amongst all the home demons that interrupt you despite yourself. It makes you unguarded, and that's not good at all.

Two more weeks of this and then back to the risks of the classroom, unless the virus has got out of hand again by then.