27 February 2013

February books and films

Not a great deal to report here, I haven't read that much or seen many films because I've been busy doing unfun things. Less of that, please.


1) Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong- James W Loewen
This book made me really glad I had never had to study any of the school history courses featured. They seemed to be mainly focused on rote-learning dates and hero-worshipping (mostly white, male, dead) historical figures like George Washington. The textbooks seemed incredibly simplistic and boring, and intent on portraying American history as some kind of logical march towards glory.

 I always enjoyed history class at school. We had a really good teacher who everyone liked, and the syllabus and textbook were pretty decent. They focused a lot on social history and change, which was good, and never pulled out the "we are the best country, look at all our heroic figures"angle. There was a lot of focus on things like how enclosing the fields screwed over the peasants, the terrible working conditions of the Industrial Revolution, slave trade etc. Basically how shitty things were for people at the bottom of society.

Our syllabus went something like this (there were probably other things too, but this is what I remember):
Yr 7 (ie aged 11-12)- Saxon England, Norman Conquest, Feudalism, Castles, Magna Carta, Crusades
Yr 8 - Tudors, Farming revolution/enclosures, Black Death, English Civil War, Commonwealth, Restoration
Yr 9- Industrial Revolution, Slave Trade, French Revolution, Napoleon, Poor Laws, Chartists and Suffragettes/Founding of the Labour Party, First and Second World War, Independence of various colonies 
Yr 10&11- 20th Century Russian, German and American History 1917-1989 (This part was optional, but was a popular option)

2) My So-Called Freelance Life- Michelle Goodman
I read this when I visited Vicky and couldn't sleep. It wasn't very helpful. It was written in an annoying "You go girlfriend!!!" style, and the advice seemed very dated. Like for instance suggesting getting a website like it was a new thing. The finance/tax stuff was only suitable for the US, so the book wasn't really much use for me.

3) Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything- David Bellos
I was really looking forward to this book, and then I hated it when I read it. The writer spends a lot of time going back over the same semantic analysis of "what is translation" again and again, from a very narrow and pedantic viewpoint, then tantalising you by going into an interesting topic like how simultaneous interpreting works or different approaches to translating jokes, then after a short paragraph going back into the same tired, dogmatic analysis again, so you don't actually learn much about the practice of translation. The writing style is also dull and pedantic. I did Classics and Modern Languages as my BA, and I spent a lot of time doing translation/linguistics stuff. The book is too dry and technical for someone with a passing interest in the subject, but doesn't teach you much you wouldn't know already if you'd studied linguistics.

He was the English translator for an Albanian writer called Ismail Kadare, who is very popular and fêted translated into French (Bellos produced the English edition from the French, because he doesn't speak Albanian), and Kadare gets shoe-horned into almost any topic as an example, like he's trying to shill his own translation work. Kadare sounds like a really interesting writer (and has won the Booker Prize, and been nominated for a Nobel Prize), but the thought of reading anything else written by David Bellos fills me with horror. Translators have to be skillful writers in their own language to be any good. There are far too many painfully boring people who get into translation for some reason, and who shouldn't be allowed near any writing that has some life in it. I was hoping for coverage of things like Anthea Bell's genius translations of Asterix or how the hell you translate something like Ulysses or Exercises in Style. It didn't even mention English as She is Spoke.

I had to force myself to finish the book, and wouldn't let myself start another book until I'd finish this one. I have this thing that I have to finish books, even if I don't like them, in case there's one interesting bit in a boring book and I miss it (thanks Pliny!). I knew if I didn't finish it, I'd never go back to it. So that means the book has glared at me for a week, and I haven't read anything else, and wish I had. I'm going to re-read something fun and short next: the Napoleon of Notting Hill.


I only saw one, Riot at the Rite , about the development and disastrous first performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Of course to a modern audience 100 years down the line, the music and dance doesn't seem shocking or unbearable at all, and certainly not something to make you riot in the theatre. The funny thing was that it horrified the cat. She loves watching tv, and nothing on the tv ever seems to bother her normally. When the music came on though, she leapt up and meowed really loudly, and then ran out of the room like she was going "No! I can't bear this!", and didn't come back until the film was over. I guess she has an Edwardian mindset. She ran out of the room again when I was sorting out what video to include! (The other cat is fine, he is just sat there) I enjoyed the film, even if the cat didn't.

26 February 2013


Zine Stall

On Saturday I did zine stalls at Brixton Record Fair and Bloody Icecream. I brought a film camera with me, and the film is at the lab still, but I took some (not fantastic) phone pics too.

Like I said earlier, I am currently in Kent looking after my mum's cats while she tos and fros seeing to my grandad and his affairs (my nan died at Christmas, and my grandad is a frail old man of 88 who can't really look after himself any more. He finally decided to move to a home a few days ago after ending up in hospital three times in one week). I'm still job-hunting and going to fruitless interviews. Tukru came round on Friday night, with the idea we would eat pizza and have some drinks and make things. She had some zine to work on, but it didn't really happen. We drank too much cheap fake malibu. That drink makes me think of being 15.

New zines coming soon

Making zines

I've got two zines I'm working on right now and want to get finished soon. They're about 75%-80% finished. I wanted to have them done for the weekend, when I did a stall, but I didn't have time, and didn't want to rush them. I didn't want to rush them, and then I ran out of toner anyway. The one made of maps is about Vienna, issue 14 of Fanzine Ynfytyn. I actually started it in 2010 and mislaid the pages. Better late than never. The other one is issue 20 of the zine, it has the usual sort of stuff- this time Jeff Mangum, foxes, and North Korea. They will each be the usual 24 1/4 sized page b&w zines for 80p.

21 February 2013


elephant and basil

This is the time of year when you're thoroughly bored of Winter and want it to be Spring again. I'm currently stuck in Chatham, waiting for various things to happen, and looking after my mum's cats in the meantime, who come to the front door and meow at me indignantly if I have the cheek to go out, because everyone has abandoned them, and they are poor orphan kittens (aka very spoilt cats).

 I'm keeping busy, by the weekend I should have finished off two zines and (finally) got my other blog up and running. More details when they materialise.

20 February 2013

Songs based on books- a playlist.

Here's a short playlist I made of songs based on (good, enjoyable) books, with some short descriptions for people who haven't read the books in question.

1) Sympathy for the Devil- the Rolling Stones 
The Master and Margarita- Mikhail Bulgakov 

The Devil comes to Moscow in the 30s as Professor Woland, academic, stage magician and troublemaker. More academics should consider adding some diabolic magic tricks to their repertoire in my opinion. It has a terrifying cat, historical flashbacks and philosophy too.  Everyone ought to read this book. There's a recent Russian TV version as well.

2) Bukowski- Modest Mouse
General works- Charles Bukowski

The song succinctly sums up my feelings on the topic. I wish people didn't think you have to live like Bukowski to write like him. Wannabe boy-Bukowskis are painful to behold.

3) Golden Hair- Syd Barrett
Poem V- James Joyce

Based on one of James Joyce's poems. I really don't recommend reading any of Joyce's letters to his girlfriend, you will want to wash your brain out afterwards. This Hark a Vagrant comic sums it up pretty well. I wonder if anyone's done a song interpretation of Finnegans Wake? I know there's classical interpretations. There's a list here of some music based on Joyce.

4) William It Was Really Nothing- the Smiths

Billy Liar- Keith Waterhouse

A nice bit of kitchen sink drama. Yorkshire boy Billy spends his days daydreaming and compulsively telling elaborate tall tales to escape his dreary job at an undertakers in a small town, and manages to get accidentally engaged to multiple girls at the same time. There's a Decemberists song based on it too, but I didn't have it to hand. The picture in the audio player is from the film adaptation.

5) Charlotte Sometimes- the Cure

Charlotte Sometimes- Penelope Farmer

Charlotte is at boarding school in the 1960s. Sometimes she wakes up and finds herself as a girl called Clare in 1918. The two girls leave notes for each other in a diary about their experiences in each other's lives until Charlotte becomes trapped in 1918. The whole book has a sad, haunting atmosphere. When I was a kid I read this back to back with Tom's Midnight Garden and Moondial. I'm suprised I didn't take to my bed with a fit of the melancholics (that's still a valid medical diagnosis right?). 

6) Cloudbusting- Kate Bush

A Book of Dreams- Peter Reich

Wuthering Heights was just too obvious. Cloudbusting is based on the memoirs of Peter Reich, son of the controversial psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich (and inventor of the cloudbuster machine). The book is really worth a read, but is out of print and hard to get. There is a pdf version floating around though. The song also has a great video, directed by Terry Gilliam.

7) Gouge Away- the Pixies

Samson and Delilah - The Bible 

Frank Black seemed to like writing songs about the more bloodthirsty bible stories.

8) Scentless Apprentice- Nirvana

The Perfume- Patrick Süsskind

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is an 18th century perfumer's apprentice with an incredible sense of smell, and an obsession with creating the smell of beauty by murdering beautiful girls and extracting their scent. One of my all-time favourite books, and one that did wonders for my German vocab. I also really enjoyed the film adaptation from a few years ago, with Ben Whishaw.

9) Venus in Furs- the Velvet Underground
Venus in Furs- Leopold von Sacher-Masoch

Victorian S&M novel. Von Sacher-Masoch gave his name to masochism. It seems to be Gregor Samsa's recent reading matter too. I suppose because of von Sacher-Masoch and Leopold II of Belgium I always see Leopold as a slightly sinister name.

10) White Rabbit- Jefferson Airplane

If I didn't include Wuthering Heights, then I will include this obvious one. I really hate the fluffifying of Alice in Wonderland where she's a giggly blonde girl, and it ignores the atmosphere and logic/word games of the book and the piss-taking of Victorian education and its love of moralising poems. Take a look at the real Alice Liddell. I hated the Tim Burton film even more. It really annoys me when Hollywood feels the need to turn everything into a one-size-fits-all bland fantasy quest to save the world. This is my favourite screen version of Alice in Wonderland.

11) the Fox in the Snow- Belle and Sebastian
Orlando- Virginia Woolf

A double-bill of Virginia Woolf, because why not. This one is loosely based on Orlando by Virginia Woolf. Orlando describes Sasha, the inconstant Russian princess as "a melon, a pineapple, an olive tree, an emerald, and a fox in the snow all in the space of three seconds - he did not know whether he had heard her, tasted her, seen her, or all three together." I recommend the Sally Potter film version, with Tilda Swinton and Quentin Crisp.

12) To the Lighthouse- Patrick Wolf
To the Lighthouse- Virginia Woolf

To the Lighthouse is a good guide to having a really miserable holiday. I really loved Patrick Wolf's first two albums, but I went off him later. Whenever I went to see his gigs I always felt like the oldest person in the room, even though I was only in my 20s.

Back in the days when I used to teach EFL at a dodgy language school in Brighton, I had a mantlepiece in my classroom. I got some frames from the charity shop, and printed out a photo of Oscar Wilde and Virginia Woolf, writers who I liked, and who happened to have two pictures that were a similar colour tone and composition and placed them on the mantlepiece to cheer the place up a bit. One of my students asked me in all honesty if they were my parents. Imagine that upbringing.

19 February 2013

Record Fair

 photo musicstuff.jpg

(I thought I ought to have a picture. This picture is from when I moved house a few years back. I think I was moving from Reading to Brighton. Hefting box after box of records down the stairs got really boring and tiring, so I had a teabreak after about 4 and took a photo. The poncho record disappeared somewhere over the years and house moves. I wish I still had it, the music on it was pretty crap, but the cover was magnificent.)

On Saturday I'm doing a zine stall with my friend Fliss Collier at the inaugural How Does it Feel to Be Loved Record Fair. As well as our own zines we're bringing a selection of music zines and stock from Vampire Sushi distro.

There will be record stalls from Fortuna POP!, Where It's At Is Where You Are, Odd Box, Fika, How Does It Feel To Be Loved?, The Great Pop Supplement, Dirty Water Records, Enraptured, Cherry Red, and Lojinx and lots of second hand records. I will have to restrain myself from spending any money, because I'm broke.

 Entry is free, and the fair is on from 12-5 Sat Feb 23rd at the Canterbury Arms, Canterbury Crescent, Brixton, SW9 7QD 

18 February 2013

70s interior design book

Here are some scans from a 1970s interior design book- House by Terrance Conran. Some of the stuff in it is really really 70s looking, and some is very clean and timeless-looking. The pictures I've scanned are a mix of the two categories. I just scanned the pictures that appealed to me, as it's a massive book. Some of them are a little grainy due to the printing technique. I scanned another 70s interior book I have here.


The book starts with the exterior, and then works its way through room by room, with building and architectural advice as well as decor tips. The exterior section recommends doing some horrific things to fine Victorian brickwork with brown paint. There was a time in the middle of the 20th Century when no-one seemed to want Victorian terraces. My nan was happy when her two-up two-down in Battersea was knocked down and she was given a modern flat instead because it had proper plumbing and heating (nothing that couldn't have been fitted to the old house). Now people pay a small fortune for the identical houses on the next street, and people think the 60s flats are ugly. My dad also remembers helping friends nail sheets of plywood onto the panelled doors in their houses in the 50s and 60s to get the modern flat door look.

My dad spent his whole life as a building surveyor. He wanted to be an architect really, but it took long enough to finish the night school classes to be a surveyor. He had/has a sideline in designing extensions and rennovations for people and doing the planning applications, though, but I don't think he's ever designed a whole building from scratch, and he's a bit old to start now. You go anywhere with him, and you get an impromptu architecture quiz/lecture about the buildings along the way. If anyone ever threatens to shoot me unless I answer whether those semis are Edwardian or inter-war, I'm sorted. Apart from that, it's a useless skill.

Anyway, I do like these blinds.
(Late Victorian, I'd say- bay windows and elaborate porch, but sash windows on the side. Useful, huh?)

17 February 2013


The other day I had to go to Maidstone. I really can't think of any other word to describe the place rather than dull. It has the usual chain shops if you want to buy some things, and a pretty town hall and museum, (and a prison with huge stone walls slap bang in the centre) but that's about it. It's the sort of place you go to run errands, no other reason. It's not horrible, but not particularly interesting either.

When I was at school I sometimes went to gigs at the student bar there, but it was such a pain to get back in the evenings I didn't bother too often unless I knew someone who was driving. When I was really little I used to go to see the Sooty Show and pantomimes at the theatre, and that was the high point of Maidstone in my estimations.

 I bought some boring black tights and socks that I desperately needed, and had a poke around the charity shops and a nice second hand shop called Trash and Treasure. There was another second hand clothes shop that seemed to be 80% (real) fur coats. As a long-term vegetarian I found going in there really creepy, especially as it's the only vintage clothes shop I've encountered that doesn't play any music, and the owner barely speaks. Just silence and dead things. I couldn't get out quick enough. I had good luck with the other shops though, I got some nice things for very little money.

charity shop haul 15 feb 13
Some checked culottes. I don't normally wear culottes or shorts,  but maybe it's the time to try. If it turns out I don't really like them, well it's not like I wasted more than £2. The purple stripy t-shirt and blue glitter tights are from the H&M sale rack. H&M make the best tights, they last forever. 

The stripy wooly tank top was also second hand, as was the Puffin book, and the checked corduroy fabric. I'm not quite sure if the fabric is thin furnishing fabric, or thick dressmaking fabric. I supposed I could make both a cushion and a dress, and hide on the sofa. That's the dream. I have a few of these Puffin annuals from the 60s. They have really great illustration inside. I scanned some other numbers here.

While I was there I also went to the local museum, which is in a rickety old Tudor manor house with a very strange layout. I love small town museums that have a bit of everything in them. I used to go to Maidstone Museum quite a lot when I was a kid for their summer activities. They've had a refit, so some of the things have moved round. They used to have an unwrapped mummy  in the same room as the taxidermied animals, I suppose on the grounds that they were all preserved. The mummy rests in the chapel these days, with a sign with her name from the sarcophagus, which I think is a nice touch. They still have the dinosaur exhibit in the fake cave with the balcony, and the gallery full of stuffed ducks, and the incredibly claustrophobic gallery with Egyptian things on one side, and Victorian toys on the other, but the fake Japanese tea garden with the fake river is sadly gone. I brought my camera with me, but realised I'd forgotten to put any batteries in once I tried to use it, which was a real pity.

 I discovered some other galleries I didn't remember, which I really enjoyed. There was one of the history of costume, with lots of beautiful outfits and very good descriptions, and curiosities like a Regency pregnancy corset. There was also a gallery dedicated to the collection of a local Victorian explorer called Julius Brenchley. He travelled all over the world, but seemed to particularly like the Pacific Islands. His diaries were surprisingly open-minded for the times (or at least the extracts the museum chose to print were), he seemed to admire a lot of the cultures that he came into contact with, and the exhibition had all kinds of interesting stories, like the time he fell into an active volcano in Hawaii, and everyone thought he was dead, but the locals managed to fish him out, and invited him to their feast as a guest of honour. Maybe he just came across as more likeable than Augustus Pitt-Rivers, which really isn't all that difficult. 

13 February 2013

Ugh. Disgusting.

big slug

Here's a rough mock up of something I've been working on. It's not quite how I want it yet. When I was younger I had a book called Nature All Around (I scanned it in this post) and it had a picture of a big orange slug that used to disgust and fascinate me. A few years ago I lived across the road from a fish and chip shop with a poster in the window advertising the "new masala cod". The photo was a lurid orange, and looked a lot like a less frilly version of what I've drawn. If you bought a masala cod late at night and forgot to eat it, I always imagined it would creep along the carpet in the night and smother you like a terrible 70s horror film.

12 February 2013

Separado! Gruff Rhys ac y gaucho cymraeg

(The trailer is terrible by the way, nothing like the tone of the actual film)

I finally saw this film today. I'd wanted to see it since I'd heard of its existence, but not got round to it, but it was definitely worth the wait. Gruff Rhys from the Super Furry Animals saw a singer on Welsh tv in the 70s who used to go onstage wearing a poncho and riding a horse, and then sing flamenco and samba songs in Welsh with an Argentinian accent, and he was spellbound. His grandmother told him it was René Griffiths, a distant uncle of his from South America. An ancestor of his in the 1800s joined the Welsh colony in Patagonia after accidentally killing his cousin in a rigged horse race.

 A couple of years ago he was given the chance to make a film while promoting his solo album, and he decided to go over to Argentina to track down his relative and see some of the parts of the country that still speak Welsh, and play his music along the way. The resulting film is really charming, a sort of gentle psychedelic road trip, like a cosy version of El Topo with added music and social commentary. Gruff Rhys has always seemed like a very affable man. He plays his own music in the film (sometimes to audiences of bemused old Welsh-Argentinian old ladies), and also befriends other musicians along the way, and includes their performances. The film's in Welsh, English and Spanish (and a tiny bit of Portuguese), with English subtitles on the non-English parts. You also get to hear a lot of South American Welsh, not something you see on screen much.

10 February 2013

Surrealistic Pillows

society 6
I opened a Society6 shop today to sell my designs. You can get cushions, greetings cards and iphone/ipad/laptop covers. I have the same designs on Spoonflower, available as meters of fabric, but I'm still waiting to get my printing samples to check before they go live. I've got lots more patterns I'm working on, but here's 6 to start with.
Society6 have a special offer that ends at midnight Pacific Time (ie early in the morning GMT). If you order today, you get free postage. The link is here.


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