Thursday, January 18, 2018


The Last Line

Last line, last verse of the song. It took months with Heaven Avenue, and there's another one like that nagging away in my head. Just leave it on the shelf, get on with something else, and it will pop up like dawn on the horizon,

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

An Unusual Afternoon

Yesterday afternoon I took a group of MA students to The House of Commons to look around, and sit in the Visitors' Gallery. We were kindly invited by a chap who used to like The Chefs, and once we'd been through airport-style security, we had the opportunity to experience something that is a public right- entering the House of Parliament- shown round by someone who loves the place to bits.
It was incredibly impressive to stand in massive stone-flagged room that was built 1000 years ago, with a ceiling so high you felt that you'd need a helicopter to change the light bulbs. Everything in the building is beautifully crafted, from the mosaics on the floors to the wooden fretwork and panelling and the paintings that are hundreds of years old. I hadn't realised how badly bombed it had been in the second world war but much of it has been rebuilt, although some of the very old parts survived.
Our host was full of hilarious anecdotes- Michael Jackson trying to buy the gold throne in the House of Lords when he was given a tour, for instance.
In the visitors' gallery, we were prepared to be bored but there was a very interesting paper on Human Rights and the EU that involved some gracious interaction between the Labour and Tory MPs, with John Redwood sitting there and twitching with fury, trying to interject. It was a luxury to hear a well-researched and articulate discussion that was a million miles away from the irritating and publicity-seeking MPs who make sure they are splashed across the newspapers for saying practically nothing.
Going to witness government in action is an experience with much to recommend it, especially if you're feeling disillusioned with politics. It's not hot-headed and dramatic like Prime Minister's Questions, which is more of a furious showcase of party politics. This was the measured and well-argued presentation of facts.We could have sat there all afternoon, and I wish we had- apparently one of the Tories fell asleep later on during Ken Clarke's speech. But for a group of students, none of whom ticked the 'powerful British white man/woman' box, this was an oddly heartening experience.
Tip: make sure you haven't got a pair of scissors in the bottom of your bag!

Monday, January 15, 2018


Straight back into life today; I finished and submitted an academic article, which was a relief (What stress! Retrieving the password, putting the finishing touches into the style template, wondering if everything it said was true). There was marking to do and a massive list of administrative things which knocked me out just by looking at it.
There is a new song to put up on Youtube, but I only got about 3 hours sleep last night so it will have to wait until I look and sound like a human being rather than some sort of exotic roadkill that has been shocked back to life.
Half of me hates January, and the other half loves it. Being inside looking out at the midday gloom can feel quite snug, but the thought of that gloom lasting into the foreseeable future is a bit grim. I'm going to go to Edinburgh for a few days to stamp about on the frozen grey pavements thinking about McMum and McDad, who no longer live there because they have both passed away. Somehow I think their spirits are still around, drifting between there and Perthshire. It is almost ten years since McDad died; I still have his gardening hat, and the smell of woodsmoke from his shirt when I used to sit on his lap as a child on Sunday afternoons is as easy to recall as anything that happened yesterday. He was quiet a lot of the time, and it's nice to sit in the same room as a person like that: peaceful.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

What You Been Doing This Avo?

Learnink my sonks, darlink.💚

Where All The Sparrows Went

A couple of years ago, people were lamenting the lost sparrows of London. I can confirm that they are all in Lausanne, outside the Lausanne Youth Hostel where a cacophony of chatter can be heard at seven o'clock in the morning in January. Some of them are at Lausanne Metro station too, eating crumbs on the platform.
Yesterday I got up early and had a wander around the city as it woke up. The mountains across the lake were invisible again, hidden by January lake mists, but the air in the city was clear and sharp. The streets of Lausanne are steep and cobbled, with a fresh fruit and vegetable market thriving just outside smart chocolate shops. This is French Switzerland, although it seemed like a miniature version of Vienna. In a large department store, posh ladies and gentlemen drank coffee and ate cakes at high benches in the quiet that only money can buy.
The aisles were full of every shape, colour, size and permutation of chocolate. I passed on the churn of chocolates that moos when you open it. Alas, there was no room in my bag, and anyway I still haven't opened the red plastic Christmas SFX device that I bought on a whim in the January sales.
One of the best things was that the train back to Geneva airport was a double decker one!
Through the distant mist, you could see skeletons of trees with no green summer flesh to soften them, layered and silhouetted against the water, with fields of vine stubs crouched over like rows of leaping stoats, next to the tracks. As on Thursday, there were odd juxtapositions: a crazy golf game being played right next to what looked like an enormous power-station, for example.
The plane landed like a feather on a lawn. Coming through Stansted was sad. There was a replacement bus service to Liverpool Street and it was more cheerful to travel with a coach load of people speaking French; it's amazing how easily you become used to another language being spoken around you, and if you don't strain to translate all the time, the music of the speech.

Insect home, UNIL; babbling brook with turquoise water; guitar shop (closed, alas); mooing churn; narnas; spuggy on the Metro; ceiling at Geneva airport (these babies grow to full-size planes in twenty years); shoe shop sign.

Friday, January 12, 2018

I miss...

... the guitar playing bit of the day, which usually lasts at least an hour, is like breathing out a gigantic sigh, and balances out all the other bits of the day in a calming and peaceful way.
No guitars here, alas.

A Day in Switzerland

I have come to a conference in Lausanne to present a paper- it would have been so nice to have spent longer here, but I thought that I would be paying for it myself (the University took a long time to approve funding and consented just before Christmas), so I'm doing it on a nano-budget.
I have seen things from the train (regrettably, not a double-decker, although they had those in Geneva).
It looks like a giant version of Northumberland.
There are huge pom-poms of mistletoe growing in lots of the trees.
There are chicken-yards next to robot factories.
The water in the streams and rivers is a beautiful shade of turquoise.
I have learned...
Swiss people are kind and considerate (a man leaned over to a stranger on the train and offered to lend her his iPhone battery charger when her iPod appeared to have run out of power).
Swiss Youth Hostels are like British hotels.
Quite a lot of French can come out of my mouth if I don't think too hard about it.
I can understand 25% of a French academic paper just with my school French, and because a lot of academic terms are very similar.
It's tiring working out what the remaining 75% means.

Last night I did an interview about my research for a Swiss radio station, so more about that when it its broadcast.

It's a bit cold and misty out there; the guy in the Youth Hostel recommended the beautiful views of the mountains if you walked to the University from the Youth Hostel, but nothing was visible today and a troupe of extremely hungry swans pursued me across the grass from the water's edge so I scooted up here pretty quickly. There's no snow in this part of Switzerland in spite of the avalanches in the Alps; its the same as January in London, minus the dirty drizzle and noise, although it's very much roads'n'rail.
Oh yes- there is some amazing graffiti here.

Countdown to presentation time....

Thursday, January 11, 2018


Dick, who used to drum for The Piranhas in Brighton, has passed away. This is terribly sad because he was quite young and he was such a live-wire as a young man; everybody liked him. He was like everyone's kid brother.
He worked at The Malling Press in Lewes for a while as a printer and left, because the Piranhas started doing really well. I got the job after him, and we both had the experience of being shown the bottom drawer where the National Front letter head was.
'I ain't printing that!', declared Dick, which was brave because he must have only been about 17, in probably his first job.
He was a really good drummer, and when he joined the band they had the line-up that made them successful, partly because of his energy and good time-keeping (metre-wise; I have no idea if he was a teenage whippersnapper and showed up late for gigs and rehearsals).
Even his friends were nice. His best buddy worked for British Rail in Lewes and was always full of smiles if we bumped into each other. Big love to you, Dick xxx

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Next Gig

Busy times- my next gig is Daylight Music at the Union Chapel, 12 noon till 2 p.m. with Judy Dyble, who sang with Fairport Convention, and the Perfect English Weather (that's The Popguns, acoustic).
An academic weekend for me this weekend though- my bag is stuffed with papers and my head is stuffed with thoughts. This is a short posting because I have a lot of travel to organise.

Monday, January 08, 2018


I bought a book of Punch cartoons from a charity shop but this one wasn't in it.
At art college we loved Les; I didn't realise he was a Daumier illustration. Still luv him.

France Gall, Blamed, Revisited

People are debating the late France Gall's claim that she didn't 'get' the innuendo behind Serge Gainsbourg's lyrics, and saying of course she did: that she wasn't naive.
It's much more subtle than that. What she didn't 'get' was the degree of manipulation behind getting a gamine female singer to sing lyrics that turned men on. Young women in the music industry have always been pressurised to sell sex to men, both through their appearance and through sexual sonic identities. Look at Annabella Lwin from Bow Wow Wow- fourteen years old and simulating sex sounds, told by Malcolm McLaren that she was making the 'sounds of falling off a tower'.
There is no choice; young women are on a production line in a fickle industry and if one woman won't 'do' it, then another one will. Despite her provenance as the daughter of a successful musician (and perhaps because of her providence as the daughter of a successful musician: did her father collude in this?), the young woman was duped into voicing the fantasies of a middle aged man.
Did I say 'dirty old git'? No, I wouldn't dare to. #WoodyAllen etc etc etc.....

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Hannah Ryggen at The Museum of Modern Art, Oxford

This is a really, really good exhibition that is well worth the trip to Oxford. The gallery is within walking distance of Oxford railway station; it is not an enormous exhibition, just two rooms, but it's well worth going.
The tapestries are huge, and full of humorous detail. Many of them are coloured using vegetable dyes and Ryggen was entirely self-taught as a weaver. She was a communist and both Hitler and Winston Churchill appear in her tapestries. She was a brave woman who stuck to her principles, even when it was dangerous. I loved the way she had woven her political activism into the work. The colours are vibrant and the composition is immaculate- all the more so because she worked freehand. They are full of character, but also have a sort of serenity about them that is really appealing. They look more primitive in photographs than they do when you're standing in front of them, partly because their size is quite extraordinary, but also because there is the impression of a lot of depth in them, which may be to do with the texture of the fabric. What an amazing woman.
I wish I'd taken more photographs especially of the one with the horse; there is no catalogue unfortunately. It's on till 18th February; these are very unusual artefacts for their time- she was an inspiring forerunner of today's craftivist movement. Go!

Weekend Assortment

Everything is ready for the Working in Music conference in Lausanne on Thursday.
Everything apart from me that is, but I will be ready on Tuesday. Because of chaos in the house, nothing is where it should be. The morning was spent dismantling furniture; there are hundreds of Allen keys somewhere, but I could only find two and they were the wrong size, and I couldn't start work until the ironmonger's opened.
If there is a new year's resolution to be made, it is to put everything with all the other everythings; this works just fine, until the Offsprogs visit. There are three copies of the Toots and the Maytals CD (I think) because each of them took a copy off to college with them (I think) and brought them back when I'd replaced the copy that I thought I had, but didn't.
My nose is running because of the dust, and all that lifting and shifting was knackering.
There is more to do in a bit, and the washing machine is limping through its last wash before the replacement arrives tomorrow. I'm assuming that the new one will have an enormous manual and be impossible to programme at first, and in anticipation of that the old one is being forced to work for the last few cycles. It is very reluctant and is making a series of grunts and groans to express its martyrdom, but I'm a hardass Mum-type, resistant to emotional blackmail even from a machine. Every so often it stops and flashes all of its little lights at once, beseechingly, but it's no good.
It's no good.

It is also gig-booking time of year, and that's a bit like that game where you have a plastic square with random sliding letters, and you have to slide them around until you have made a word. It doesn't help that the list complied from what everyone sent last year went down with the ship before Christmas when the computer malfunctioned; however, last year was just so brilliant on that front that it has to be done again, and it will be.
Toodle pip!