Friday, April 17, 2015

Club Artyfartle 2

It's actually number 4 (one and two were at The Perseverance and the Lexington respectively) but here is the Facebook event page for all you Facebookers out there:

Thursday, April 16, 2015


After a few weeks off, I'm back gigging again. On Sunday I'm heading down to Brighton to support Lesley Woods, formerly guitarist and vocalist of The Au Pairs, at The Prince Albert. I think Lesley will have a band; the gig starts early, at 8.30. I love The Prince Albert and I'm really looking forward to it.
Then on Monday, Club Artyfartle 2 happens at The Boogaloo. I have invited Johny Brown (of The Band of Holy Joy), Mikey Georgeson (of David Devant and his Spirit Wife), Gina Birch (of The Raincoats) and Katy Carr all to share some of their new songs in a very informal setting. Emerald Em will be doing an art workshop as well. I don't know what to expect- do you?
It starts at 8.30; be there or be Halifax.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


This is in memory of Francisca, a super-amazing person who I've just discovered died recently. She was a lovely woman who hugged me every time I saw her. She was one of life's enhancing people, positive, energetic, funny and loving. When we got into trouble for The Cleaners' Voice (the University didn't much go for the campaign for fair pay for the cleaners) she turned up at a Research Event to be interviewed in front of an audience even though her English wasn't that good- she came along for the craic and did a fantastic diplomatic job just by being there.
There is a Paypal link to repatriate her body to Brazil. It would mean such a lot to her family to have her home; even a fiver would help. I've put the link to the video above the Paypal link so you can see what it was all about. Leaving the legacy of a successful campaign was a great thing to do, but her real legacy was a personal one- you could see her smile from the other side of the building. How sad, the loss of such a positive woman.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Art Installations in a Suburban Street

Actually, now I'm sure that the ducks are an art installation.
Because last week there was a wrapped cucumber casually resting up against a doorpost next to a small industrial building in the street.
I'm excited to think what will be on display next week.

Ducks in May

Oh all right then, April.
I mis-spelled it as 'dicks' which could have been even worse.
A tribe of ducks has moved into a car park at the end of the street- three males and one female- tempted by a large pile of breadcrumbs. Their emerald heads were gleaming in the sunshine and they looked absolutely beautiful.
The senior one was waddling about in the road and won't be chased back to safety. When I looked back he was nestled under the wheel of a car in the shade, being a look-out.
There are often wagtails in the street too, which is quite extraordinary because as far as I know the nearest body of water is about a quarter of a mile away.
It's an exciting location, where I live.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Writing Fatigue

I don't even know how many hours I spent writing today; between three and four.
It's the graft bit now.
There are about 60 books stacked up there, and a whole pile of academic articles plus lots of data.
I've written just over 20,000 words, not counting the interviews.
What I'm writing is depressing at the moment; I'm hoping to get to an 'up' bit soon, which will probably be editing the interviews.
Now I'm writing therapeutic songs!

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Flannelette Walk

I went on a long peramble today in the hope that it would suddenly become sunny, but it didn't. I'd organised about 40 books into piles ready for catching up on writing this weekend and decided to walk first to clear my head. Finding a way on to the canal towpath at Camden was impossible because it was so crowded you couldn't move, so I strolled up to Camden Road where it was such more peaceful. Accompanied by the dulcet tones of ducks and geese, I peered at houseboats with bicycles strapped to their roofs and bay trees wedged into crevices on their decks. The St Pancras Basin seems to be gripping on with white knuckles to its right to exist, but I sense the steam-rollers of progress snorting upon the horizon (and Camden Market should be trembling in its cowboy boots too).
The towpath's a bit of a con because at Islington you have to walk through a housing estate and then you get lost. Or I did anyway, until Chapel Street Market suddenly appeared. From then on it was football fans all the way; they appeared to support a team called Fly Emirates that I've never heard of but I liked the red shirts anyway. Islington is a curious place, with very expensive houses and very expensive shops to match them; but the streets are full of all sorts of people who must live somewhere in a parallel universe of metropolitan affordability. As I walked up Holloway Road, diving into vintage furniture shops I'd only ever seen from the car, the fans passing by got drunker and more noisy. Were they consoling themselves or celebrating? I never really picked that up. I saw the new Twelve Bar, which was hosting a large number of pavement drinkers. Further along, two rappers charged down the road rapping in unison. Then the shops gave way to lurid plastic signs for burger bars, kebab shops, and what appeared to be hundreds of minicab firms.
Holloway Road appears to be arranged in cultural stripes, with some middle class bits and some much poorer parts, with the air quality to match. Have the posh houses got ionisers tucked into the bushes in their front gardens?
I walked almost six miles this afternoon, much further than I'd meant to. It worked- it has cleared away the fog. The thought of Steel Pulse at The Forum was tempting, but writing won the toss in the end.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Victory! The Scanner Submits.

After an hour of experimentation, the scanner works if you disconnect it from the enormous programme that controls everything and just tell it to scan. At last, I can use the scanner without making an appointment at the library or paying £9 at SnappySnaps (shame on you, greedy fellows).
Here is one from the archives; the very poor quality is because it's scanned from an A5 comic. The original, which took 3 months to do, was thrown away by the then editor of the Imperial College magazine where I got it printed. He now appears regularly on the BBC and I still have a very small twinge of resentment every time I see him!


Like many academics, I'm working today catching up on emails, sorting out books, and all that lark.
In between, I'm ruminating. On Wednesday I toyed with the idea of queuing up for last minute tickets for the Mahogonny opera at the Royal Opera House. But I had an unexpected (and very welcome) visitor so I didn't go. The whole area burst into flames later that day and is still burning, underground. Apparently the ROH isn't affected but I imagine it could very well have been closed down that night. I stayed in an watched The Mighty Wind instead. And laughed a lot.
The printer/scanner I bought over a year ago has resolutely refused to scan anything, ever, and during lengthy and fruitless online advice sessions, I've been sitting upstairs in front of the ole computer waiting for various things to download.
Through the rainy atmosphere, I could hear very faintly the congregation of St John's Church singing their Easter hymns. Their voices swelled in unison: 'Rah, rah, rah, rah!', blown a bit by the wind and interrupted by the whooshing of passing cars, but still quite emotionally moving.
Easter this year will as always be a solitary affair. I will walk, think and watch out for signs of spring everywhere; the dark burden of winter has shifted and life feels fresh, free and exciting.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Slide Rule

Things don't always work out the way you intend them to. I was disappointed not to be able to go to Berlin to see Martin and Gemma play, and perhaps play a few songs too. But there was three line whip at work; we had an open day and we had to be there.
To compensate, I treated myself to a ticket to see Mahogonny at the Royal Opera House. I'd never been there and it was something to get excited about; I love Brecht and Weill. But two days beforehand I discovered that I'd bought a ticket for the matinee performance. What a fool. So I returned it and thankfully got my money back.
The open day was great. I felt proud of my colleagues and the prospective students seemed to really enjoy it.
On the way home, tired and facing an evening with Inspector Montalbano, I strolled into the bakers to buy a loaf of bread.
The shop assistant was in a good mood. Would you like a bag of rolls for free? Yes please!
What you lose on the swings you gain on the roundabouts (is that right?). Or what you lose at the opera you gain at the bakers. Almost.

Friday, March 27, 2015

John Singer Sargent at The National Portrait Gallery

I met Caroline in the hallway ; we were both very excited about this exhibition as Sargent is an artist we both love. It was quite crowded but not with snotty people: people managed to gracefully swerve around each other and make space for proper looking; it wasn't uncomfortably overpopulated like some London exhibitions.
From the start, you could see what a genius Sargent was. His friends weren't the snobs of the time; rather they were artists and musicians, and often not the most well-known. What really comes across in his paintings in the most touching way is how much he loves people (even when he very gently smiles at their foibles). In one gorgeous painting, Fete Familiale, Madame Besnard sits square at the front of the painting in her best red dress, her magnificent bust illuminated, her profile exquisitely painted; she has presented a birthday cake to her son while Papa watches approvingly but anonymously from the background. The painting is simultaneously sumptuous and everyday: we all know what a birthday cake looks like. That this snapshot happened so many years ago, and that so many of the people portrayed her (who could quite easily be our friends) lived through their joys and sorrows but died many years ago, gives an air of melancholy to the show.
In my favourite painting, Rehearsal of the Pas de Loup Orchestra at the Cirque d'Hiver (which is almost monochrome but for touches of sepia), an orchestra with double basses, trombones, trumpets and tympani puts all their energy into their playing: the light glinting from the brass instruments, and the tension as the string players put their bodies into their playing, is so realistic that you can almost hear the music.
I found myself trying to work out what they were playing by looking at the double bass players' fingers and the positions of the trombone slides.
And here is Robert Louis Stephenson, relaxed, comfortable and sharing a joke, leaning back in his wicker chair with a fag. Next to this painting is another, where he's pacing across the room while his wife joke-hides in a sparkly veil on a sofa. In so many of these paintings, Sargent has caught his sitters mid-mood. Very few of them have a static, bored feel, and this is where the life comes into his work. He paints personalities as much as people, sometimes perhaps unwittingly catching a little bit of self-regard, as he does in the painting of Mrs George Batten Singing. Her eyes are closed, her chin is raised to show her beautiful neck; we know that a beautiful voice comes from those lips, but we understand that perhaps she, too, knows this fact rather well.
Sargent had a fine old time up in the Alps with his pals, painting them painting and sometimes being a very competent impressionist. Everything bears his hallmark of confidence and affection and love of light, shade and unexpected detail.
There is never too much: inside, he knows just how sparkly silver is, and just how much glass glows and refracts light. Outside, he can paint distance and atmosphere, even though they are things you can't really paint because they are ideas and not objects.
There are lovely drawings here too: Ethel Smyth is shown to us as a strong and independent woman, the black chalk lines sparing and the draughtsmanship perfect.
I was almost moved to tears by seeing Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose. Ever since I saw this painting as a little girl I have loved lilies and felt what it must have been to be one of those little girls in the cool, long grass, getting lanterns ready for a party that I might not be allowed to go to. When you've fallen in love with a reproduction, seeing the real thing is the most amazing feeling: such a treat.
The painting is almost three-dimensional in its intensity of colour. Nothing is lazy. Detail is where it should be, and simplicity of rendition backgrounds everything that is not important but has to be there.
This exhibition is fabulous. I enjoyed it all the more for being with Caroline, who was enjoying it just as much. Afterwards we wandered into Chinatown and ate Dim Sum, which is something we won't be able to do soon, because Chinatown is going to be bulldozed by greedy developers just like all the other quirky and interesting parts of Londinium as it gradually turns into Dubai.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Bjork, Female Pressure, STEM and Women Producers

Earlier this year when Bjork was interviewed by Pitchfork and continued her conversation about the way women are supposedly unable to engage with technology (in Bjork's case, music technology, but this is a general assumption apparently made by the majority of both men and women), this struck a chord with many female musicians, and quite a few male ones.
The site Female Pressure picked up on the flurry of discussion that was reactivated by Bjork's interview; Female Pressure researches and stores information about women producers worldwide, and provides a discussion platform of their activities.
Yesterday I went to a STEM talk about young women and mathematics by Dame Celia Hoyle, which showed how interest in pursuing the subject drops off as girls get older, and that there are still very few young women going into science and engineering.
There is a lot of activity to encourage girls to continue with maths and science subjects and there is a shortage of engineers in the UK that would be well served by more female graduates.
Under the radar, the whispers tell the true story, I think. A person at the meeting told of her daughter being the only female on an engineering course, and gradually being pressured to such an extent that she left. It was the constant assumption vocalised by her male peers that she was going to be someone's secretary rather than a qualified engineer in her own right. She couldn't stand it, and so she left; this is a 'now' story, not a story from the bad old days.
Something makes some young men feel that they have the right to bully female colleagues out of their working or studying environment when they are in the majority.
It may seem that I have chosen a one-off situation to talk about but during the interviews I've done with people over the past fifteen years, I've sometimes felt like weeping at the injustice and the hypocrisy I've heard of.
Anyway- all hail Female Pressure! I wrote something for their blog, which is the first time any of the research that I've been doing has appeared in print. I'm still doing two-hour stints almost every day and going to a talk about young women and maths has stimulated one of the areas that I'm writing about. It is an interesting and important issue. I hope we can change things for our daughters, and sons!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Caroline Lucas Cupcakes and a Bronze Cast of a Deceased Wren

Just catching up, really: phone is knackered so I can't send photos any more. These belong to past postings....

On Hoarding

Hoarding is relative to space. I think some hoarders tell themselves that soon they will win the lottery and live in a gigantic house, where all their stuff will fit. Others do it out of insecurity and anxiety.
Years ago, I had to empty out a four bedroomed house with a loft that was the size of my whole house now. It was horrendous and funny at the same time. I was too embarrassed to take a regular six bags of stuff to the same charity shop every time so I would do it in rotation, sometimes driving quite far afield.
The worst load was an entire bin bag full of plastic boxes- the tupperware ones. I couldn't bear to waste them by recycling them; I was sure someone could use them.
Now I'm sure they couldn't.
I've written before about the embarrassing trip (quite liderally) to the Oxfam shop with a pile of albums
I have grown quite good at clearing stuff out; I do look at the contents of my house and think that if I lived in a three bedroom semi, my house would be empty. Now I think it might be time to sell the piano, which hasn't been played for months and months; not because I don't want it, but because I do play the guitar all the time and that's why I don't play the piano.
Being an academic, I have loads and loads of books, most of which are out of date because I buy them second hand. I do use libraries too- it's just that I gobble up information like a starving penguin gulping down herring and I can't always keep up with the library routine of ordering, collecting, reading very fast and returning (you can't read academic books quickly).
You may have guessed by now that this posting is a Sunday prevarication.
I have a lecture to write before tomorrow, and I'm taking a break after tidying up the back yard which has been invaded by a wealth of wingnuts that, had I not swept them up and uprooted them, would have resulted in sycamore forest out there come the summer.
It's time to make a pot of coffee and fire up the brain.