133: Do I love you? Indeed I do.

Waaaaay back in the 1980s I fell for an American bloke in scruffy jeans, a white t-shirt and a penchant for bandanas on stage. Duran Duran were discarded in his wake – callow youths in their flouncy shirts and frankly ridiculous trousers! Enabled by a babysitter, I discovered the albums beyond Born in the USA. That check shirted, stubble-chinned, guitar-brandishing New Jersey boy remains my favourite nearly 40 odd years later. I even managed to write a couple of essays about him in uni, and he was probably one of the main reasons I chose to do American Studies in the first place.

You know you’ve made it when Sesame Street get in on the act

I am, of course, talking about the Boss, the one and only Bruce Springsteen. He of the E-Street Band. You know. Born to Run. Dancing in the dark with Courtney Cox. Cars and girls. Impassioned odes to blue collar America. Excellent counting skills.

Like all long-term relationships, it’s had its low points – his album, Western Stars, was definitely one of those. I listened once and then resolved never to speak of it again. Generally it’s been high points, though, and that seems to be what’s coming with his latest single ‘Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)’ which is the harbinger of a new album of soul covers called Only The Strong Survive and which is a proper joyous romp in the manner of the Seeger Sessions album from 2006. I’m very much looking forward to hearing the rest of it.

Clarence and Bruce. Sigh.

Here are my favourite Bruce albums, mostly in no particular order. With 20 studio albums, seven live albums and a stack of compilations and archival releases there are a lot to choose from.

  1. Darkness on the Edge of Town. I prefer this to The River. It’s wonderfully dark in places, with lots of excellent guitars and the E-Street Band very much on form. Highlights: ‘Candy’s Room’, ‘Racing in the Streets’. Actually, all of it. It’s my favourite.
  2. Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ. His first album. Completely different to his second, third and fourth albums. Practically jazzy in places. My favourites are ‘For You’ and ‘Lost in the Flood’
  3. Nebraska. Early solo effort. Recorded in his house – clearly a forerunner of the working at home thing. Highlights: ‘Highway Patrolman’, ‘Open All Night’
  4. Hammersmith Odeon, London ’75. The elegiac version of ‘For You’ is glorious, the rest of it is riotous. Especially ‘Rosalita’.
  5. Bruce Springsteen and the Sessions Band: Live in Dublin. Off the back of the Seeger sessions studio album (also worth a listen) this is someone having the MOST fun on stage with a bunch of his mates. Includes excellently bouncy versions of ‘Atlantic City’ and ‘Open All Night’.
  6. Born to Run. Must be listened to as a whole for the full effect. If you only have time for a couple of tracks, go with ‘Backstreets’, ‘She’s the One’ and ‘Jungleland’.
  7. Apollo Theater 3/9/12 – the first full show for Bruce and the band after losing Clarence Clemons. So good, and a warm up for the Wrecking Ball tour.
  8. The Promise More of a compilation, but basically the sessions and demos for Darkness. Different versions of things, and a great version of ‘Because the Night’.
  9. Born in the USA. Peak 1980s Bruce, and never fails to cheer me up. I want ‘No Surrender’ played at my funeral.
  10. The Wild, The Innocent and The E-Street Shuffle. From the year I was born. ‘Incident on 57th Street’ and ‘Rosalita’ – completely different, completely brilliant.

I love Springsteen’s talent for bringing the characters in his songs to life: Spanish Johnny and Puerto Rican Jane, Bobby Jean, Crazy Janey and Hazy Davy, partner-in-crimes Terry, Wayne and Eddy, Frankie and Joe Roberts, Jimmy the Saint. No one is perfect, everyone is human and fallible. Springsteen may not really be a blue collar hero but he certainly grew up around them and is a born storyteller.

I’m quite sure my Springsteen-loving friends will have their own top tens, but these are mine – let’s see if the new album can edge its way on.

Things making me happy this week (apart from Bruce):

  1. Cunk on Earth. I can’t decide whether the poor academics know it’s satire or not. Either way, it’s hilarious.
  2. A great day on Thursday focused on careers – New City College in the morning helping with mock interviews and a junior school in the afternoon for ‘Aspirations Week’.
  3. Toast with Marmite and butter. The perfect food for any time of day.
  4. New haircut.
  5. Going to Wales to see my cousins tomorrow! (I am writing this on Friday night. The magic of WordPress).

Also, these finishes…

See you next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Michael Tolliver Lives – Armistead Maupin

Dishonesty is the Second Best Policy – David Mitchell

Woodston – John Lewis-Stempel

Doctor Who: Eleventh Doctor Tales (Audible)

132: last bastions of Englishness?

Last Sunday I had an urge for some proper Sunday night telly – the kind of telly you need when you’re full of roast dinner and want something that won’t tax your brain too much. In the 80s and 90s it would have been Last of the Summer Wine or Heartbeat, something gentle and Northern. Saturday nights had Bergerac or Casualty (aka ‘accidents waiting to happen’) once The Dukes of Hazzard, WonderWoman or The A-Team were out of the way.

In the early noughties I became hooked on Midsomer Murders: an increasingly bonkers range of suspicious deaths committed in picturesque English villages, allegedly based on Slough (of all places) and with varying body-counts-per-episode. My all-time favourite death was the one where a bloke was squished in a printing press, complete with the lettering on his chest. And possibly the one where Tiffany from Eastenders got squashed by a cheese, unless I was imagining that one.

In 2011 one of the producers claimed the show was the ‘last bastion’ of Englishness and that he intended it to stay that way: the murdered and the murderers (and the forces of law and order) were invariably white and usually firmly middle-class. In recent seasons there has been more diversity – in 2021, the production company said that 37% of guest roles in the last three series had been played by people of colour. So, a good thing, right? Definitely more reflective of British society. Right?

Hope no one reads anything into this

But is there such a thing as toxic diversity? The episode I watched on Sunday, The Scarecrow Murders, was an exercise in conscious bias: a trio of murderers, one of whom was Black, one Asian and the other homeless. The trio of victims were… white and middle-class. Another episode was set up to suggest a Black suspect from the start, though it turned out he wasn’t whodunnit in the end. For comfortable Sunday night viewing this did raise a few questions, and I hope someone starts to rectify this as I really do love this series. While I agree that, with its constant round of flower festivals, village fetes, bell-ringers and rose-covered cottages, Midsomer may well be the last bastion of Englishness…. English does not, these days, equal white. And for those of you who care, I prefer Dudgeon to Nettles. So there.

This week, however, the ‘last bastion of Englishness’ – well, Britishness – award must go to the Queen’s funeral with all its pomp and processions. My beloved hurled himself in from the garden at 11.05 as he was ‘missing it’, annexed the remote control and settled in to watch the Queen’s send off. And some send off it was too: we didn’t watch the funeral itself as gazing on people’s obvious grief felt wrong. I carried on watching the proceedings until the coverage moved to Windsor, when it all got a bit silly and they started interviewing Alan Titchmarsh.

Later in the week I found myself at another British institution – the Children’s Society, which was formed by a man outraged by children from his Sunday School begging for food on the streets. The occasion was the launch of The Good Childhood Report 2022, which shows that children’s happiness continues to decline (for a number of reasons, and social media is only one of them) and in the context of the cost of living crisis this will only get worse. They made the point that the UK is the sixth largest economy in the world and we have the highest number of children living in poverty in Europe. Mental health is in decline, and 80% of NHS funding for this is spent at point of crisis rather than in prevention; swingeing cuts to all youth services mean children are slipping through the net.

There was hope, though: a panel of young people from all over the UK spoke eloquently and bravely about their own experiences. They stressed the need to be genuinely heard and seen by the adults around them and consulted about how they can help. My own daughter’s experiences with CAMHS supports this: the automatic recourse to CBT rather than anything actually helpful; the immediate discharge if they’re ‘not engaging with’ a counsellor; the waiting lists and the lack of child centred approach.

We also heard from the amazing Bernadette Eugene-Charlery who is working with police forces in Haringey and Enfield to ensure police dealing with young people are seeing the child as separate from the crime and making what is going to be a frightening and traumatic process as understandable as possible. The police at these stations now let the team know as soon as a young person is in custody with three-hourly reports, and they are provided with a support person who will explain what’s happening and what will happen next, who will listen to them and help them. More to the point, they are also working within the system to identify children and families who are at risk of being exploited – county lines and so on – and work with them to try and prevent them ever getting to the custody stage. I didn’t expect to end up quite as emotional as I did!

What I’ve been reading:

A Promise of Ankles – Alexander McCall Smith

Dishonesty is the Second-best Policy – David Mitchell

Life in Pieces – Dawn O’Porter

Sure of You – Armistead Maupin

What Abigail Did That Summer – Ben Aaronovitch

131: god save us all

This week my guilty watch has been THE QUEUE. Not in real life, obviously, but on the live tracker on YouTube. As I write, the queue is at capacity and the waiting time is approximately 24 hours. Announcers on the stations yesterday were saying THE QUEUE IS FULL and DO NOT TRAVEL TO JOIN THE QUEUE. Around me I could almost see English heads exploding as their patriotic right to queue was removed (OK, I may have lied about the last bit). There are probably people in the queue at this minute, having spent a very chilly night near the river, muttering about Blitz spirit and that sort of thing because that is what English people do under many circumstances (tube delays, rail strikes, Brexit, scone shortages, and so on).

I am trying to work out if I have ever heard of any other occasion when people have volunteered to join a six mile queue – I mean, if it was the M25, they’d be cursing it and there almost certainly wouldn’t be doughnuts involved. Even legendary squeaky-voiced (but aging attractively as long as he doesn’t talk) ex-footballer David Beckham was in THE QUEUE for 13 hours. 13 HOURS. Like he was a NORMAL person or something. I get that this is an historic moment, I really do, and – as the mawkish would have it – “we will never see her like again”, but this is still peak English. A queue with a control room, wristbands, its own YouTube tracker and weather forecast, toilets and street doughnut sellers: the queueiest queue ever. I suspect Charles will not have the same kind of turnout in twenty years or so, when he shuffles off*, although surely he deserves some sort of recognition for longest apprenticeship ever. I wonder, also, whether it was quite so urgent for him to make the tour of the UK when he is so clearly grieving hard for his mother. We have TV and social media, we all know what he looks like and he is not, after all, actually governing the country in anything but name. The period of ‘national mourning’ should surely apply to him too. It’s not as if we’re going to revolt.

Another thing I don’t understand is how a three-minute Jubilee skit with a pretend bear has come to define a 77 year reign – marmalade sandwiches are all very well, but you won’t be saying ‘awww’ when central London is overrun with giant rats hyped up on white bread and sugar. Plus, if I was a bear arriving at Buckingham Palace I’d have been seriously concerned for my skin.

Not a real bear

The thing I don’t understand the most is the way that businesses are behaving. This week is the first time my beloved has got angry about workers’ rights, and I think he may finally see the point of my role as a union rep. Schools are closing for the day. Chains like Aldi, Costa, McDonalds are closing for the day ‘out of respect for her Majesty’. However, there is no legal obligation for companies to pay their staff for a normal bank holiday let alone this extra one – so those people who have their bank holidays folded into their leave allowance (20 days leave plus eight bank holidays is their allowance for the year, which is bad enough) are having one of their precious 20 days compulsorily deducted. As long as the employer gives a minimum of 48 hours notice that they are going to do this, it’s perfectly legal. While I understand that employers are not making profits while they are closed, there are implications to this: for parents who hoard their leave to save money on childcare in the holidays, for example, or people who have used up their allowance for the year. Presumably they will be made to take unpaid leave.

Spare a further thought for those people who work part-time in those closed schools as cleaners, or lunch time supervisors. For those zero hours workers working on events which have been cancelled during this period, or casual workers who don’t get paid if they don’t work. Minimum wage workers, for example, on £9.50 an hour if they’re over 23 – and that’s the minimum living wage, not the ‘real living wage’ which is calculated at £9.90 outside London and £11.05 in. Remember that only the minimum wage is a statutory requirement, too, not the ‘real’ figure. These workers may only be doing a couple of hours a day in these roles, but in those two hours that’s £19 they’ve earned. After NI and possibly tax depending on how many part-time jobs they’re doing, that’s £15 or so to take home. That’s a week of school dinners if you’re just over the threshold for eligibility for free school meals. That’s several days’ food for the family. That’s a couple of days on the electricity and gas key, if you’re also being screwed over by the power companies in that way. Think of the sub-contractors who aren’t earning either, and the self-employed. My standard Asda shop went up by £40 this month, the definition of ‘cap’ seems to be different for the energy companies than it is for the rest of us, interest rates are going mad. Handing out an extra bank holiday in the name of national mourning is all very well, but to take money out of people’s pockets with the other hand is an insult.

What I’ve been reading:

False Values/Amongst Our Weapons/What Abigail Did That Summer – Ben Aaronovitch

To the Land of Long Lost Friends/The Joy and Light Bus Company – Alexander McCall Smith

*On the subject of Charles, have a word with your advisers about their planning skills. Owain Glyndwr Day was not the wisest choice for your first trip to the principality with your new hat on. Probably not your fault, but still – after 50 odd years in the Prince of Wales role, a bit of historical tact wouldn’t go amiss. Ask Michael Sheen. He’ll tell you.

Cover Image: Sky.com

129: Quoth the raven ‘nevermore’

OK, it wasn’t a raven but a crow, and it didn’t actually say anything, but ANYWAY. Yesterday my friend Amanda and I ticked off number five on the Magnificent Seven cemeteries list with a visit to Abney Park in Stoke Newington as she was house sitting in Shoreditch again.

We hopped on a bus from Shoreditch High Street which took us through Hackney and Clapton, and then missed the entrance as it was hidden behind hoardings. We didn’t notice till we’d walked as far as Stamford Hill, when it dawned on us that the 400 yards that Google had said had been going on for a while!

Once we’d made it through the building site to the cemetery it was lovely – cool under the trees and with lots of friendly hounds and their people. Like several of the other cemeteries we have visited much of it is now left wild as a nature reserve, and indeed this was the first such reserve in Hackney – it was planted as an arboretum so there is a huge variety of trees on site, as well as a ‘rosarium’. There’s apparently some interesting mushrooms (not that sort of interesting) and assorted fungi about. I was quite taken by this fallen tree where the mushrooms were fruiting into the hollow trunk.

There are fewer celebrity burials in Abney Park than in Highgate and Brompton etc, but we did find a memorial to Isaac Watts, the hymn writer – apparently there was a spot he particularly liked to hang out in. There was also a very imposing statue of him further in – he’s buried in Bunhill Fields along with John Bunyan (all those nonconformist types!) but Hackney was his stamping ground. Our favourite grave belonged to Sophia Caroline Whittle, ‘Relict of the late ‘Censorious”. We couldn’t find out any more about ‘Censorious’ but I’d love to know!

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission have been working hard cleaning and clearing their sites in Abney Park so there are shining white stones among the Victorian greys. Many of these seemed to date from late 1918, sadly – just a day after the end of the war in one case. There are lots of little tracks off the main paths, allowing you to explore. Like the others we have visited many of the older graves are overgrown and inaccessible, but that allows for the wildlife to thrive. We saw squirrels and heard a lot of parakeets – but no signs of the owls who nest in the trees, who were presumably tucked up for the day.

It’s funny to think that there are trends in funerary décor as with everything else – in one area there will be a row of Grecian urns, and in another a set of identical angels topping the plinths. Perhaps the local memorial stonemasons have sales? There seem to be a lot of Blitz victims, which is to be expected in East London. We saw the non-denominational chapel, which was only used for burial services and not for worship and which is sadly closed after falling into disrepair. Quinn London, who are also the ones doing the base build at my own dear museum, are responsible for the restoration of both the entrance and the chapel so a trip back might be worthwhile when the works are completed.

One thing that does worry me is the number of people who ‘fell asleep’ and ended up in the cemetery – if someone could double check that I haven’t just dropped off before they plant me that would be great.

After a quick refuelling stop in ‘Stokey’ (as I believe the ‘hipper’ natives refer to it) we headed south again – the first bus that came along was the 106, which took us through Hackney and down to Cambridge Heath station where we got off and walked down Hackney Road to Columbia Road. I lived on Hackney Road for several years, and back then it was punctuated by strip clubs and derelict shops. It’s now restored and rebuilt in many places, with bars, coffee shops and the odd boutique (OK, and strip clubs). I was glad to see the City Cafe II still in situ – excellent bubble and squeak on a Sunday morning!

We walked through Columbia Road, stopping at the British Cheese Shop where I definitely didn’t have a Monty Python moment, and rejoined Hackney Road at the Old Street end, where we decided to detour via Hoxton Street Market and Hoxton Square – I love the Hoxton Street Monster Supplies shop (supporting a literacy charity). The market is hanging on as a community space – the City looms over it and the gentrification of Shoreditch is slowly sneaking up, but until then you can still buy second hand china, clothes, fruit and veg and hear people greeting friends and ‘aunties’. There’s a wonderful old building that was an early asylum, which took serious Google-fu to find out about, and there’s still lots of evidence of Hoxton’s artisan past.

The door of Hoxton Street Monster Supplies

After a quick stop for a cuppa and a biscuit or two we wandered over to the Barbican to buy some supplies (OK, tequila. But we got salad too.), walking via Bunhill Fields so we got two cemeteries in in one day. John Bunyan is tucked up in there, flown over by the ubiquitous parakeets and scampered on by squirrels.

Post-dinner, we were people watching from the roof and observed five Hackney enforcement officers arrive to deal with one graffiti artist – not because of his artwork (which we liked when we went to see it afterwards) but because he was obstructing a parking space with his kit. The area has become famous for the street art – from Stik and others to your basic taggers – and some of the pieces are amazing. Still, heaven forbid you take up a parking space! We went for a late night round-the-block (9.30 is late, surely?) and judging by the drop in people on the streets of Shoreditch we may be witnessing the beginning of the recession – also, people seem to be buying their nitrous oxide in bulk now rather than in the little canisters, looking the aerosol sized cans about the place when we walked the dog this morning!

Tequila sunset

I’m pretty sure it’s nap time now, though – all that walking took it out of me!

Other things making me happy this week:

  • Thing 3 starting secondary school
  • Finishing my talk for the GEM conference this week (phew!)
  • Hanging out with my godson and his girlfriend as well as Amanda
  • Not having Covid any more
  • Several dog walks

See you next week! This week I am off to the Crafts Council for an in person thing, to Derby Silk Mill for the GEM conference – exciting!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

If It Bleeds/The Outsider/Finders Keepers – Stephen King

128: ding! Round 2

This week has been somewhat marred by the return of Covid – once again, I tested negative for four days despite having symptoms. On Monday I tested negative in the morning so went off merrily to work, and then tested positive in the evening. I had to apologise profusely to the various people I had seen over the day: many colleagues, as we were working at the All Points East festival, several D&D playing children as I had sat in on a session in the morning with Jo Levin of Encounter Terrain (feeding into one of the new galleries), their dads, another colleague…and here’s a general apology to the 350 odd people we engaged with over the day too. Eek! Sorry, people.

Jo Levin and a vertical terrain

However, I’m only issuing a very begrudging apology to the lady who came to our area with her grandchildren and spent a good twenty minutes telling me how disgusting it is that we are redeveloping the museum. She has allegedly spoken to HUNDREDS of people who are all outraged. ‘I bet you hear this all the time!’ she said. ‘You must have had so many people complaining, especially as you didn’t bother consulting anyone about it.’ Actually, no, I said – you’re the first.

Well, five years of consultation with local groups (‘well, I didn’t see any of it’), with public events in the museum (‘well, I was always in there and I never saw any’), press coverage (‘not in my local paper’), focus groups and outreach events apparently don’t count because we didn’t ask her and everyone she knows. We have no right to change history, she said, and she’d been going there for SEVENTY YEARS and she worked in EDUCATION and for OFSTED and how DARE we change things? It was a LOCAL museum for LOCAL PEOPLE. The fact that the head of Ofsted is one of our trustees and approves of the changes cut no ice. I, personally, was ruining her life with my new-fangled galleries and callous disregard for EVERYONE’s childhood. Meanwhile, her grandchildren were thoroughly enjoying the blue blocks, which will be a feature of one of those new-fangled galleries. And on she went….and on, and on. And, in fact, on.

Things 1 and 2 enjoying the old museum before we ruined everyone’s childhood.

The fact that we aren’t funded by the local council was not a factor, apparently, and neither was the fact that it’s 16 years since the last rebuild – when quite a lot of the museum (and therefore history) was changed. Conservation was not an issue – she didn’t care that some things can only stay on display for a certain length of time before they start to degrade, people like to see the same things when they visit after twenty or thirty years. She does not care that her grandchildren will be able to engage more with objects, or that it will be more interesting for them, or that there will be exciting new objects and stories. She was keen to inform me, also, that we had been closed SO LONG that the younger grandchild had never even been there, and the older one couldn’t remember it. She did not care that the building work we were doing will make the space more accessible for her and her buggy. A colleague with conservation experience came to my aid, but to no avail. We were RUINING everyone’s lives with our CHANGES to HISTORY. She did not want to hear that all the objects she liked would be more accessible in the new Storehouse space, where they would be in better conditions (ie not in a damp basement or, in the case of the wax dolls, melting in horror-movie fashion in the heat of an uninsulated Victorian greenhouse) and could be seen alongside the rest of the museum’s collections. Eventually we extricated ourselves and she went to supervise her grandchildren, who were having great fun building things. My poor line manager was next in the sights, and the woman had still not run out of steam.

Whatever major project you embark on, especially in a place which was as well-loved and such a feature of an East End childhood as the museum, will have its detractors and people who want things to remain the same – luckily they are in the minority, and most of the people we engage with are excited by the new developments and can’t wait for us to reopen. As a team we are excited about the opportunities to reimagine the space, to enhance our own objects with amazing things from the wider collection, to create a museum which is for young people rather than about them. Luckily, most of the people we meet are coming with us on the ride and are looking forward to next year.

Those of you who know me in real life would be proud of my restraint, especially when I really wanted to paraphrase Frank-N-Furter and say ‘well, I didn’t make it for you’.

Gratuitous Tim Curry picture

Other things making me happy this week:

  • Testing negative for Covid yesterday and being able to go to Jill’s Tiaras and Bowties party
  • A mooch around the charity shops of Bishops Stortford with Miriam and Lesley
  • Meeting a new kitten belonging to a neighbour
  • Dropping a skirt size (hurray for the HRT, I think!)
  • Benylin original cough mixture
  • Thing 1 doing really well in her GCSEs

So there we are! Covid-free once again, and hoping to go and meet another kitty this afternoon.

See you next week! Let’s be careful out there.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Days of Anna Madrigal – Armistead Maupin

Logical Family: a memoir – Armistead Maupin

Grand Union – Zadie Smith

How to Raise an Elephant – Alexander McCall Smith

127: play Wonderwall!

On Thursday my gig buddy Jen and I fought train strikes and tube strikes to go and see one of our favourite bands at Wembley Arena. It’s the first time I have been back there since the Stereophonics with London sister pre-lockdown, when we fought snow and single-use plastics instead. I haven’t seen Jen since she moved to Yorkshire to hang out with birds of the feathery kind for the RSPB, so there was also lots of catching up to do.

We met at Park Royal and walked to Wembley from there, encountering the A40, some dodgy industrial estates and 1930s suburban housing developments – crossing railways on rickety bridges, wandering through new landscaped flats and generally having a good old gossip. By the time we reached Wembley (3.2 miles! It was hot!) we were very ready for a sit down so we had a milkshake and a Coke in the new shopping development before making our way into the Arena.

I like Wembley Arena as a venue – it’s big enough but not stadium-big. Over the years I’ve seen various people there: Springsteen on The Rising tour, Pearl Jam, Alanis Morrisette, Blondie, Meat Loaf, Stereophonics, Tom Jones, as well as Russell Howard on the comedy front. Usually it’s packed, but with the nationwide train strike I’d say it was about two-thirds full (which meant we could sneak a couple of blocks forward).

We arrived just in time to see the first support act, Chris Farren, whose set was very short but great fun – especially the fact that his backdrop was basically a bedsheet and a powerpoint he was controlling himself from a laptop. His final moment was a selfie – ‘look happy so my mom thinks I’m a success!’

Our gigs over the years have been haunted by a drunk (we assume) man who shouts ‘PLAY WONDERWALL!’ at any quiet moment in the show – we joke about him, but he’s been at every TGA show, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats and even at a White Buffalo show that Jen wasn’t even at. Halfway through Chris Farren’s set, there he was shouting ‘PLAY WONDERWALL!’ from somewhere near the front. One of these days I’d really like someone (not Oasis) to actually play the damn song and say ‘NOW SHUT THE F*** UP’ at him….

The second support act was The Selecter, who I last saw at Looe Festival and who are – as they should be after more than 40 years – slick and brilliant at what they do. If I’ve got as much energy as Pauline Black at almost 70 I’ll be pretty happy. We loved the security person standing near us who was dancing away during their slot. They finished up with ‘On My Radio’ and ‘Too Much Pressure’ and made way for the headliners. They’re touring at the moment, so if you want a really feel-good night out go and find your nearest show.

The Selecter – not small, just far away

The Gaslight Anthem went on ‘indefinite hiatus’ in 2015, so apart from a brief reunion for the tenth anniversary of The ’59 Sound in 2018, they haven’t been touring – singer Brian Fallon has been making and touring some excellent solo albums instead. When they announced that they’d reunited this year there was much excitement. They’re a pretty straightforward, feel-good, post-punk band from New Jersey who gained a lot of fans when Springsteen namechecked them on being asked who his favourite new musicians were back in 2008. One reviewer described them as a cross between the Boss and the Ramones, and you can’t go wrong with that.

Anyway – what a show. For the interested, the setlist is here – highlights for me were Handwritten, Keepsake, The Patient Ferris Wheel and The Backseat though from start to finish there were no low points. Laura-Mary Carter of Blood-Red Shoes joined the band onstage for a couple of songs, bringing a new harmony or two to Halloween and Blue Jeans and White T-Shirts. With no new studio album release since the reunion, there was no new material so everything was a singalong moment, and the atmosphere was amazing – the kind of setlist you really want when a band reunites, or when they’re playing a festival where not everyone is a fan. You know, the good stuff. The band were having great fun on stage as well, playing off each other and generally appearing to be happy to be back together – roll on the new album and the next tour.

The low point of the evening was trying to get back home afterwards – on the day before a tube strike the service is always bad in the evening. Had I not had to get Thing 3 to an event at his new school by 9.30am the following morning I’d have crashed at London sister’s and had a lie-in, but as it was…. a 15 minute wait at Bond Street for a Central Line train, followed by 19 minutes at Leytonstone for an Epping train as they were running a shuttle service, meant it took the best part of two hours to do a journey that should have taken a little over an hour. Still, worth it for a great night out with one of my favourite people. Move back to London, Jen!

Other things making me happy this week:

  • fun with the Tortles at D&D this week
  • making a couple of crochet tops for Things 1 & 2
  • Swimming in the sunshine
  • Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series
  • Blackberry time in the garden

This week I am off from Wednesday for a few days, with a stack of projects lined up.

See you on the flipside

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Swell – Jenny Landreth

The Running Hare – John Lewis-Stempel

Leap In – Alexandra Heminsley

Babycakes/Significant Others – Armistead Maupin

124: God bless the cactuses

It’s not often that the death of someone I don’t know moves me to tears. The last time it happened it was losing Terry Pratchett in 2015, in fact. The passing of Bernard Cribbins this week was another of those moments. He’s just always been around, hasn’t he. From my childhood with The Wombles and Jackanory (more than 100 stories told there!); Albert Perks in The Railway Children; my kids’ childhood with Old Jack’s Boat; my adulthood with Doctor Who; the refrain of Right Said Fred ringing in my head after many, many meetings going over and over the same subject.

His role as Wilfred Mott in Doctor Who was beautifully done: for me, when Catherine Tate joined the cast, it was too close to her comedy show for me to take her seriously (so shouty!) and Bernard’s presence made her bearable. I have come round to her now after several rewatches, but his performance never gets outshone. Ten’s final episodes (‘The End of Time Parts I and II’) are heartbreaking: John Simm, who played The Master for Tennant’s Doctor, said this week that the hardest thing he had to do was be mean to Bernard Cribbins. He seemed like a genuinely lovely man, who has left a great body of work behind him.

Talking of interminable meetings…

By Thursday this week I had sat through more meetings than you could shake a stick at, and while the content was interesting in many cases my brain was a bit fried and I was overcome with the urge to make something. So at the end of the day the laptop went away, the sewing machines came out, and I spent a couple of hours using a duvet cover and an old favourite pattern to make a new dress.

There are benefits to using a familiar pattern (in this case the Simple Sew Kimono Dress): you don’t have to cut it out, you’re not focusing on any new techniques so your mind is free to think about other things, and in this case it was a quick make. Four seams and a hem, basically, and my dress was done: the pattern is a wrap dress, which has been a wardrobe staple in this recent heat, and then I used some scraps to create the waist ties. I added a pattern-matched patch pocket, and voila! A new frock which I teamed with wedge sandals for work. I love the rather sheepish looking jaguar in the pattern!

I carried on the sewing yesterday: a cross-body bag for the rare occasions I am pocketless, and a Rad Patterns Lucky Lingerie bra that I’d cut out a while ago. The bag was from The Book of Bags by Cheryl Owen, which I won in a magazine draw ages ago (I think) and that did need new techniques: inset zip and inserting a lining. Tricky but I like the end result. I also threaded my overlocker for today’s sewing, and loaded bobbins with black thread, so I am prepped for more creative adventures today!

Making me happy this week:

  1. the Africa Fashion exhibition at the V&A and seeing some of my favourite young people from Spotlight
  2. Working on the Travel by Tardis cross stitch from Country Magic Stitch
  3. Seeing J’s face when I handed over his new GIANT dice bag

That’s all, folks – I have to go and get my bathers on!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Moonglow/The Yiddish Policemen’s Union – Michael Chabon

The Running Hare – John Lewis-Stempel

123: the downside of up-and-coming

Stardate 20220724: Weather remains hot. Still no rain. The garden is wilting. So am I. The summer holidays have started, the Things are already bored, and the fridge is empty.

As I was working in Stratford yesterday on the Great Get Together 2022 on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, I stayed in London on Friday night with my best friend, her daughter and son and some of his university friends. Her son (my eldest godson) makes an excellent espresso martini, I was told, and when we got back from putting the world to rights with the dog round the streets of Shoreditch, there was one waiting for me. I had a brilliant idea for this week’s blog content while we were walking the dog but (three excellent espresso martinis later) I can’t for the life of me remember what it was.

So I’ll tell you about Shoreditch instead.

When I lived down on Hackney Road, a mere 20-odd years ago now, Shoreditch High Street was a no-go area – dodgy pubs with lunchtime strippers, shoe and clothes wholesalers, kerb crawlers on the side streets in search of a quickie, dealers, all-night garages, drunks in doorways, empty office blocks and warehouses. It was not a ‘destination’ but merely somewhere the bus or cab would drive through on the way to destinations. Close to Old Street, Liverpool Street and Spitalfields and the creeping gentrification of the East End, it was inevitable that it would change but there are – as you avoid the balloons, the nitrous oxide canisters and piles of vomit on the street – moments when you question how much this change has been for the better.

It started with small galleries: lots of artists have lived and worked in the lovely old houses off the main street. Cheap studios as they’d been converted from old warehouses and manufactories: Shoreditch was known for furniture manufacturing and many of the early slum clearances made way for artisans’ and workers’ dwellings like those on the beautiful Boundary Estate and the end of Columbia Road. Tracy Emin, Gilbert & George and more had their studios at the Spitalfields end. These of course are now priced out of all affordability for young artists, and are being turned into architect designed conversions.

Now it’s bars and (this is good) little independent shops as well as some designer outlets alongside the galleries. Redchurch Street, only 0.2 miles long, is apparently London’s coolest street. I remember it mostly as the home of one of the dodgier estate agents I dealt with back when the other Kersti and I were flat-hunting. You can’t spit without it landing in someone’s artisan coffee*. A couple of years back I was visiting the Migration Museum’s incredibly moving Calais Stories exhibition, and a coach pulled up and disgorged a load of French teenagers for whom this was a tourist experience.

The little shops, the cafes, the vintage clothes dealers: these are lovely and great for a mooch and a coffee. Vibrant street art abounds. There’s new hotels, there’s street food markets, there’s the Box Park with the little start-ups on the corner of Bethnal Green Road. But now it’s become a no-go area on weekends for a different reason: the bars which teem with hen parties and stag parties, office workers on a Friday night, trainloads of revellers from Essex and Hertfordshire who go home again afterwards (or pass out on a park bench) and leave the residents to hose down their doorsteps where people have urinated (and worse). There’s a men’s urinal on the streets but nothing for the ‘ladies’. Signs in the bar windows now say ‘People seen using nitrous oxide will not be allowed on the premises’ instead of ‘Lunchtime Strippers’. Sleeping in a room overlooking the street requires earplugs, especially when the hound takes against the dealers hanging round on the corner outside the old Nike warehouse.

I’m sure the novelty will wear off at some point and Shoreditch will settle into quiet gentility, but until then…watch where you’re walking.

*I do not recommend actually doing this.

Things making me happy this week:

  • Thing 3 finishing primary school, ready to join Thing 2 at secondary in September
  • Thing 1 looking so grown up and gorgeous as she went off to her prom
  • Nailing the whole godmother thing just by saying ‘when we were playing D&D last week’ – Fairy Geekmother, perhaps?
  • Getting the Temperature Galaxy up to date
  • Finishing a crochet project
  • Visiting the Small is Beautiful exhibition

See you next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Tales from the City – Armistead Maupin

Moonglow – Michael Chabon

121: Hello? I’d like to make a complaint.

July. Ah, July. Month of end-of term madness. School trips of no educational value whatsoever, meeting your new teacher, ‘fun’ runs, school reports, parents’ evenings, sending kids home with piles of work which will never be looked at again, and the most hideous invention of all….. Sports Day.

I hated sports day. I hated it as a child. I hated it as a teacher. I hate it as a parent. I hate the guilt of being a working parent (but not enough to take the day off, as then I’d have to go to the damn thing and hate it even more).

Back when I was in primary school, it was competitive but straightforward. Wearing clothing of the house colour (I was in yellow house) and terrible 80s shorts, we would all traipse out to the field where we would sit in rows while people ran races. We would cheer on our house runners, and the winners and runners-ups would get a rosette. Some kids were positively festooned with polyester ribbons by the end of the day, like exceptionally flammable bunting.

There would be sprints, relays, obstacles, sack races, three-legged races and that old classic… the egg and spoon. Parents would sit behind the rows of children cheering on their little petals and wonder how long it was till home time, whether they ought to join the parents’ race, and what fresh hell six weeks of summer holidays were about to bring. Some parents, like some children, were more competitive than others.

Not actually me. From somewhere up north or something. That’s why it’s in black and white. https://www.chad.co.uk/heritage-and-retro/heritage/mansfield-and-ashfield-sports-day-memories-from-the-1960s-and-1970s-3287881

These days, there is no sitting around cheering on the other year groups and there are definitely no rosettes. There are house points, which I approve of, instead, but I also don’t see an issue with acknowledging that some children are better than others at this. That’s life. The kids who are not so good at running may be good at other stuff and that will be celebrated too, when they smash everyone else in their maths and spelling tests.

No, these days children on sports day must do SPORTS and they must do them ALL DAY. Because it is sports DAY. They must be herded from activity to activity. They must hurl beanbags at buckets. They must throw small rugby ball shaped things with sticks on. Do complicated things with hula hoops. Long jumps. Penalty shootouts. No sitting about cheering their house runners on these days, no siree!

Thing 3’s school followed this pattern but the children had the choice of taking part in competitive or non-competitive activities. The competitive ones would gain them house points, and the others were just for fun. To be fair, they did all get together for track events at the end of the day. Thing 3 said that he had chosen to do the non-competitive events, which was fine until he informed me that one of the non-competitive events was the egg and spoon race.

The bloody egg and spoon race! Non-competitive! How very dare they? That egg and spoon race – for the whole of my primary school career – represented the peak of my sporting achievement. Specifically, not coming last in the egg and spoon race. The race for those kids who have slightly less co-ordination than a baby giraffe. The race where the teachers put those kids that they really couldn’t put through the torture of coming so spectacularly last in any race that required speed. My race. MY RACE. Non-com-bloody-petitive! NON-COM-BLOODY-PETITIVE!!!

Other parents, according to the outraged Y6 whatsapp group (reminding me once again why I have always left these things immediately after being added in previous years) will be complaining that the headteacher enforced the rules she’d made very clear in the letter sent home about sports day. Rules about staying in the parents’ area, not calling your kids over for drinks/suncream/a quick chat. Not taking photos or video, for safeguarding reasons. Those sorts of rules. Other year group chats were available but the content was the same, I am reliably informed. As an ex-teacher I am with the head on this: it’s hard enough herding the kids without having to herd the parents as well. I don’t envy the chair of governors or the head when they open their inbox on Monday morning.

But making the egg and spoon non-competitive? Now THAT I have a problem with.

Things making me less irate this week:

  • Two utterly adorable nursery classes on Friday for our school sessions, filled with imaginative kids and engaged teachers
  • A sewing commission inspired by the dice bag I made for a colleague’s birthday
  • Sherwood on BBC iPlayer.
  • Lovely sunshine and a pool to hurl myself into at the end of the day
  • My baby is back from her week in Norfolk. I missed her!

Excuse me while I go and hard boil some eggs.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83 1/4 Years Old – Hendrik Groen

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – Michel Chabon

120: this week’s winner is…

It’s Saturday night and I’m sitting in the front room watching Glow Up with Things 1 and 2. Even my Beloved is quite enjoying this one, although he has taken a break to go and pickle some beetroots in the kitchen. Thank heavens one of us is a domestic goddess, eh? I have the same feelings towards beetroot as I do towards boiled eggs: I don’t eat them so I don’t need to know how to make them. I was deeply mentally scarred by beetroot in primary school, where it was served cold with spam and lumpy mashed potato, and the beetroot juice turned everything a uniform shade of bright pink. And, it tastes like damp smells. Ugh. Anyway.

Photo by Eva Bronzini on Pexels.com. Yuk.

So, Glow Up. We are obviously late to this particular party, and we’re definitely not wearing enough slap, but it’s the same basic format as the Great British Sewing Bee/Bake Off/Pottery Throwdown/etc where there’s a set of challenges and someone goes home in tears at the end and talks about how much they’ve learned and how they’ll nevereverever forget their new best friends. This one has the rather irritating Stacey Dooley in presenter mode – as far as I can tell, she’s basically Ross Kemp with more hair and less war zones. If Ross Kemp did hospitals and homeless people instead of wannabe warriors, that is. She does seem to have found a niche, and good on her for that, but her constant use of the phrase ‘please may you’ gets right on my nerves. She also says ‘haitch’ instead of ‘aitch’. It’s a no from me.

We are enjoying it, and it’s nice to have something that 2/3 of the Things will watch happily together which isn’t a badly-dubbed Netflix thriller or a terrible teen romance angst movie. There’s always one contestant that you really want to go home in the first week and every time they survive a ‘face off’ you get to shout at the telly, and when your favourite survives you get to cheer. Thing 1, as I said the other week, is off to do Theatrical and Media Make-up at college in September, so she’s finding this interesting; I, on the other hand, am just stunned at the sheer amount of make-up these people feel they need to wear, filled with wonder at what people do to their eyebrows, and boggling at the lip fillers. The young make-up artists are proper drama queens, and at least one rushes off in tears in every challenge which doesn’t impress the judges. It’s unprofessional, apparently.

Bake Off is Thing 2’s favourite and she can get very critical about people’s Swiss Roll swirls at times. She loves to bake and experiment, and is a dab hand with meringues as she proved with a pavlova for my birthday barbecue last weekend. It vanished in minutes: perfectly crispy on the outside and melty in the middle, it was a hit with everyone. Bake Off always has a bit more of a competitive edge to it, and the congratulations are sometimes delivered through gritted teeth.

Not so the Great British Sewing Bee, which I am hopelessly addicted to. The latest series finished this week, and for once I was absolutely in agreement with Patrick and Esme about the winner. I have had my doubts in the past and on at least one occasion they have been plain wrong and I wanted a recount. Once Annie had found her feet she was brilliant, and some of her garments were gorgeous. Man Yee was also fabulous, and I’m so pleased she made the final along with Debra – Brogan shouldn’t have been put through, as her Origami outfit in the semi-final didn’t meet the brief. At least it wasn’t gingham or floral though. I loved Debra and her model in the final, slipping in and out of Welsh as they chatted. The contestants on GBSB are always ready to help each other with techniques and figuring out strange instructions, and I love the way they all hold hands as they find out the results each week.

The Great Pottery Showdown is another favourite: I adore Keith Brymer-Jones and the way he cries when he really loves something. The dynamic between Rich Miller and Keith is great, and the critiques of the challenges are so thoughtful and constructive. Siobhan McSweeney should present everything, preferably in role as Sister Michael from Derry Girls with full sarcasm. The last series, where at one point pretty much everyone was in tears, was great. Again the contestants are kind to each other, and that’s such a lovely thing to see. If you haven’t seen Derry Girls, it’s wonderful: funny, sweet and candid. Binge it now.

I was sorely disappointed by The Great British Dig, however. With that title, I had visions of a set of amateur archaeologists and some very neat trenches, and the best find of the week (Roman villa, King Arthur, Viking burial, Saxon hoard etc) would get to stay and the one who only dug up two plastic soldiers and a ring from one of those eggs you used to get for 10p from the machine outside the paper shop would get sent home. Anyone whose trench had a soggy bottom would get be haunted by the ghost of Mick Aston or something. This was not the case: what we got was a bunch of people putting holes in suburban flower beds and Hugh Dennis being smug about stuff. I think my version was better.*

You can keep your Love Islands and I’m a Z-lister, too. Maybe just put them all on an island and just tell them the cameras are on. Pop back in a year and see if it went all Lord of the Flies when they ran out of bronzer.

(I’m really not a big TV watcher, despite the above: unless I’m ironing or GBSB is on, if I’m on my own I won’t turn the TV on – give me music or a podcast any time if I’m working on something, or I’ll be reading if not. On the tube I’m listening to The Socially Distant Sports Bar, which is wildly inappropriate for children and does tend to cause me to laugh out loud. Mike Bubbins and Elis James can reduce poor Stef Garrero to helpless giggles. Don’t be taken in by the name, this podcast is like two hours in the pub with your funniest mates and while sport does occasionally get mentioned there’s a lot more to it. Go on, you won’t regret it. It’s very sweary though. Very sweary. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

Speaking of competitions, another highlight of the week was the Conference News Agency Awards 2022 event this week. My friend, swimming buddy and all round fab person Isla kindly invited me along to join her company table – I’ve been freelancing for her for five years or so, helping out at awards and conferences, and I remember her making the leap and starting up her own events business. She survived the pandemic by shifting online, diversifying into online events and experiences, focusing on sustainability. The company, We Are FTW Ltd, was nominated in the Small Agency of the Year category and Isla was so convinced she hadn’t got a chance (there were 10 nominees in this category) that she didn’t bother listening to the announcement. Her face when the presenter said ‘And the winner is…. We are FTW Ltd!’ was the perfect picture of disbelief.

The event was themed around Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, and the welcome reception featured strawberry daiquiri bubbles, edible balloons and cocktail mists which were great fun, but making the young women staffing the stations wear aprons printed with ‘I’m delicious, lick me!’ was a little weird…. Miriam, who also works for Isla when she’s not being a performance life coach, wore her amazing steampunk hat and looked fabulous, and there were a lot of bow ties in the room. No one dressed up as an Oompah-Loompah, sadly. I wore some completely impractical shoes, we ate very small but delicious portions of heritage beets, beef short rib and a fluffy raspberry mousse, and the afterparty was great fun.

Other things making me happy this week:

  • the final episodes of Stranger Things
  • an afternoon at the school fete, sharing my stall with Thing 2 and M’s no. 1 daughter
  • Launching the new Adventurers Assemble! assembly at one of our favourite Tower Hamlets primary schools: time travel, space hoppers, missing objects and a mission! Giggling kids and teachers, you know it’s a winner.
  • my new shed is finished and my old shed is accessible again!

*I also have a much better version of the second two Lord of the Rings films which would save us all a few hours.

Tomorrow I have to take Thing 1 to Westfield to do some shopping for her National Citizen Service thing – a week away sounds lovely, but they said I’m too old. Ah well. See you on the flipside.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Ingathering – Zenna Henderson

Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to British Birds – Bill Bailey

I Feel Bad About My Neck – Nora Ephron