Monday, 31 May 2004

Green Fingers (didn't mention that on the box ...)

I put the empty milk bottles out last night. They were still there this morning.

I put the wheelie bin out last night. It was still there, unemptied, this morning.

It's a Bank Holiday, right!?

When you work for yourself every day's a holiday. Or a workday. You can pick yer choose. But it does mean that you lose sight of the statutory holidays.

Anyway, once I'd realised it was a holiday, I figured I ought to do something of a traditional Bank Holiday nature. But I don't have a car. So going out on the roads and sitting in traffic jams was out. (I was always puzzled by my parents' need to drive out on a Bank Holiday, long after they'd retired. Some kind of Pavlovian reaction, I suppose.)

For a while I considered painting the front door. It does need it. But after I'd looked at the instructions on the paint tin, I figured my while might mean that it would now take too long to dry. In passing, however, I did note something important in the instructions which I'd not taken into account before.

When empty do not use this pack to store foodstuffs, it says.

Who the hell would want to store their Hobnobs or their bacon sarnies in an old paint tin? Yet I'm well aware that manufacturers only put this sort of cautionary wording on their packs because someone has already done what they now warn you not to do.

I opted for that other holiday pastime, gardening.

I mowed both lawns, back and front. I sprayed spot weedkiller very carefully on the dandelions at the front. I have to be careful, because in essence the front lawn is composed of daisies, some buttercups, a funny little purple flowering thing that came from Lucy Smooth's garden, and, oh, a little bit of grass. Difficult for spot weeder to find the spots in that lot.

I raked out the thatch from the back lawn. Amazing how much thatch you can rake out from a lawn if you let yourself do it every two or three years.

I sowed a little bag of grass seed I found in the garage and watered it with Weed & Feed, taking great care not to water my trainers (Will mark clothes and hard surfaces, it says on the box)

It might not sound like much to a seasoned gardener, but I awarded myself a bronze star. I didn't stick it on my T-shirt, however (May cause staining of some cotton items, it says on the packet).

Most of the evening I spent watching from the window for the woodpigeon who normally comes every night to hoover up the seed I put out for the ground feeders; I was sure he would sense my seeded lawn.

He didn't come. I guess he knew it was a Bank Holiday.

Sunday, 30 May 2004

I'm worried about Zip .......

Great North Run (oil on canvas, 48 x 48 ins) Posted by Hello
Not a good photograph, but....

I do like living with my paintings. There's no-one to object, so I now have my pictures standing about in the living room, leaning against the furniture, quite regularly. As I regard them as my children, I suppose that's not too strange.

But I don't do it because I have an over-inflated opinion of them. On the contrary, I keep them there to remind me of where I've been going wrong, or how I might improve.

Don't get the idea that Stately Zip Mansion is something of an art gallery. I wish there were more walls to hang things on , but a great deal of my wall-space is taken up with book shelves. (Not as much as the Frootbat's, perhaps, but then I don't spend as much time in the loo as he evidently does - seven shelves of books? Come on!) What space I have is given over to etchings and paintings by people I appreciate and one or two I can barely afford. Would that I had the space and the money ....

Today turned the place into rather more of a gallery than normal, however.

I've been examining the pictures I got back from the Biscuit Factory last week. I need to decide how much work will be required to repair the scratches on each and every frame (OK, so they're proud that they're a "shop" and not a "gallery" - is this how you treat your merchandise?). In addition, several of the Balconies of Crete series are still standing about, mourning the loss of one of their number to the avaricious (but kindly) True Rat.

For some reason, I've not yet tired of looking at two of the pictures I sent to the Royal Scottish Academy Summer Exhibition. They tired of them instantly, but I keep thinking there's another series to be followed up, if only I can *grasp* it.

And then Dismal D phoned to say he wanted to bring back the paintings which didn't sell in London last month. And so he did, though it took three phone calls for him to find me again, the third from just outside the door to ask what number I live at (you'd think he'd be able to recognise the imposing gates....).

So now I have another four pictures in the living room. And one of them is the four foot square Great North Run, shown above.

I had very little time to get used to this one - it was whisked off to London almost before the paint was dry - so I began to have my doubts about it. Now it's here again, I can get to know it better. We can become friends.

And then I'll think about giving it a little brother or sister.

The Burning Barn

One of the things I've come to appreciate about blogging, is the relative anonymity it provides. I deliberately chose to be Mr Zip, rather than ..... ....., because I wanted to see if it affected how I wrote. And it has, I think. In a way, it's a little like being at a Masked Ball or Mardi Gras. There's a sense that possibly everyone knows who you are, yet wearing a mask (even a domino, for god's sake!) allows you to act differently from the way you might normally act.

And names can be like masks.

According to Twyla Tharp, the dancer:

There is a tradition in the Orient in which masters are allowed at one point in their lives to change their names. They're allowed to keep their knowledge but they get a fresh start. I like that idea.

I used to think that the luckiest painters were the ones whose barn burned down, with all their old paintings inside. That way, they had no past to be responsible for. They could get a clean start.

I don't think I'm quite ready to burn down the barn with my paintings in it. Partly because I live in this particular barn, but also because, whilst I can see how the general idea might benefit some, I can also see that it didn't do G.L.Hunter (1877 - 1931) much good. He's the least-known of the four Scottish Colourists. This may be because he simply wasn't as good as the others, but leaving aside such value judgements, his position in history wasn't helped by the fact that many of his works were destroyed in a fire.

I am inclined to cleave to this "burnt barn" as an analogy, however.

Having found much of my comfortably established life "burnt in the barn" in a very short space of time, suddenly I feel very free. All options are open. Everything is up for grabs. And for me, especially behind my Mr Zip mask, that's a rather encouraging thought.

Saturday, 29 May 2004

Historical Fragment

Posted by Hello
On a fine sunny day in July, in that life so very far away, I went into Newcastle to buy oil paint and to book rail tickets for the following Monday’s trip to Edinburgh.

As I came out of the Central Station, I was stopped by an earnest, if somewhat distracted-looking man, maybe in his mid-40s. He had close-cropped hair and a frayed leather jacket, and a satchel of some sort was slung over his shoulder. But instead of the usual “Got any spare change?” or “Wanna buy the Big Issue?” I was surprised to be asked, “Are you interested in contemporary poetry?” I had to admit to only a passing interest, but ignoring that, he launched into a well-rehearsed speech about the photocopied typescript he clutched in his hand.

His delivery was pretty much parrot-fashion, rather in the nature of replacement window salesmen. I nodded and tried to show interest as he proclaimed the worth of the verse he’d written. He quoted what sounded like critical praise for the work, including very favourable comparisons with Dylan Thomas, and explained the nature of the poetry with explanatory asides for potentially difficult literary terms.

In between, he made references to his Gulf War Veteran status, a course he was attending at Sunderland University, and how poets of old wandered the streets selling copies of their verse. “In fact” he said, “I’m a literary artist. Would you like to buy this work for two quid?”

I was quite taken with his enterprise and probably would have bought a copy, even if I did think that the patchily copied papers might have been better presented. But apart from money for paint and my bus fare home again, I was broke. So I sympathised on the lines that, being a visual artist, I understood the need to gain an audience and make a bob or two, but the money wasn’t there to help him out. We parted amicably, but even as he was saying “Thank you for your time and consideration, Sir,” his eyes were darting here and there for another poetry punter.


I ran into the Frootbat later that day. He told me that he too had been stopped by the Peripatetic Poet elsewhere in town and had bought a copy of his masterwork for £1.50.

We couldn’t decide whether I’d been the potential victim of inflation or if the Frootbat had benefited from the downward thrust of market forces.

Unfortunately the poetry was rambling, incomprehensible stuff, full of trite “Poetic” flourishes and the content suggested the writer was a deeply troubled man.

Big Scribble

ZipMedia's roving arts correspondent, Patsy123, emails again:

I want to tell you about what I did this afternoon. It relates to what you have been thinking about your art. I went to the Anthony Gormley installation at the White Cube Gallery. It was truly amazing. I quote from the info sheet: "The artist has referred to his work as an 'attempt to materialise uncertainty: the uncertainty of things that we know to exist but don't have the language to describe'." Standing inside the 'big 3D scribble' takes away any kind of reference point and plays games with your sense of size and space. He's right; there are no words to describe how it makes you feel. Mind you I think I felt it particularly because of my slight dyspraxia and my problem judging distance. I forced myself to pick my way carefully through it (without getting garotted)and much of the time I was alone in there. I think with this he has grasped the ungraspable.

I am deeply envious, more so since I learned that the show closed today.

The show I'm desperately looking forward to is, of course, the Edward Hopper retrospective at Tate Modern. The only painting of his I've ever seen in the "flesh" as it were, is Nighthawks. I saw it in the Art Institute of Chicago, on two separate occasions. One of the attendants told me it's the picture they get asked for directions to, more often than any other.

He didn't just collar me and start telling me this, you understand. I'd asked him where Nighthawks was.

Friday, 28 May 2004

The Birds & the Bugs

Posted by Hello
I think I've already established my credentials as a man of the birds. Indeed Bob Eh from next door calls me the Bird Man of *Our Street*. I've spent more time this week waving my arms in the window to scare away the bullyboy magpies and jackdaws, so the littl'uns can get their grub, than I have coughing, and that's saying something.

It'll come as no surprise, then, to find me poking around in the RSPB website. And what do I find? An exciting new count they want us to carry out. We have to count bugs! Hurrah! This will show how available this valuable food source is to the feathered folk.

Not just any old bugs, however, but bugs that end up splattered on the number plates of our cars after each journey.

The count lasts from 1 -30 June and there's an online form to record your splatterings. Even better, you can get a downloadable 'Splatometer' - a grid to help you count the insects!!

And I don't drive! I don't have a CAR!

Do you suppose I could just hold a card in front of me and run Very Fast Indeed for a while, then count the splattered insects on my card?

Take Back the Media

Tucked away in my bookmark folder, I came across a website I'd not looked at for some time. Looking at it in more depth now, I'm delighted by the anger against and contempt for the Bush administration displayed here. I'm particularly fond of the short movies hosted on this site. Here's one that tells you things you may not know, in an engaging and entertaining way.

Ee, it brings back memories of the Seventies, when, despite the general style bypass, everything seemed so much more vibrant!

It's good to see that dissent really is alive over there, even if we don't get to see anything of it on the teevee.

Thursday, 27 May 2004

Digging up the King (oil on canvas,60 x 60 ins)

Posted by Hello
Digging up the King (Oil on canvas, 60 x 60 ins)

Overtaken by the thrill of being able to post pictures here, pace my earlier observations, I thought I might post just one more for the day.

This picture sits wrapped up in my bedroom, having been seen by only a handful of people. Composed of various bits of Newcastle, my tutors at University hated it. I didn't share their distaste, but toed the line.

Just because I can isn't reason enough to do it, I know. So easy does it with the imagery from now on, I promise.

Out of my Head

Posted by Hello
A word or two about the artwork.

I thought long and hard about putting photos in this blog, and eventually came down against it as a general working principle. The magic of the written word is such that it allows us to build up a mental picture of what's being written about - and it's our own mental picture.

I'd built up my own picture in my head of what Birdman's Shed might be like. When he published a photograph of it, I was a bit disappointed. Nice enough shed. Nay, a splendid shed. But not the shed in my head.

So no photographs on Boogie Street, unless I can't find a way of doing otherwise.

But having imported the Hello facility, I figured I might make some use of it. The first drawing I put in was of Duntrune Castle, done on the spot on my recent trip there. The cartoon head is years old, probably dating from around 1976 (I drew cartoons for many years before turning to painting).

My intention is to try to find either some old drawing or cartoon which fits the post, or simply put one in because I like it or have done it recently (the one above falls into the former category). My drawing practice is in need of reinvigoration, so this may provoke some new activity.

Time will tell how this works out. If such time is given to us.

Bonfire of the Vanities

Posted by Hello

Another email from Patsy123 this morning:

Just read last night's blog. Wow! No, not melodramatic or pretentious but thought provoking and sensitive. I feel I should have some words of wisdom here but I don't other than to say you or I or anyone else can't solve the riddles, but what you can do is create something to portray the 'indefinable, ungraspable miasma' to give us uncreatives a glimpse of what you see. And yes, you (or was it Maisel) are right; it is painful but not tragic if you can't grasp it.

I have just glanced at the Guardian front page & I see that the big art fire included 50 Patrick Herons, the ones I saw in the Tate a few years back. Tragic! Some of the comments from the other living artists who have lost work make me realise again how trivial their work is. Comments like 'I will just make another one'.

I've not been following the warehouse fire story too well, in part, if I'm to be honest, because Saatchi's collection means very little to me. Most of it is almost as important to me as Beckham's latest haircut or who did what in which reality show. I heard Brian Sewell's view that it was a "major catastrophe." But I smiled wryly when he justified this on the grounds that most of what has been lost would have to be consigned to the dustbin of history purely on photographs and the published comments of critics such as himself, rather than on an examination of the artifacts themselves.

I am genuinely shocked to hear that so many of Patrick Heron's works may have been lost. This is compounded by the absence of any such report in the BBC's email coverage. They spend a lot of time on how many names were on Tracey Emin's Tent and how much Saatchi paid for the Chapman's Hell, but most of this probably comes from the Saatchi word factory.

It'll be some time before - and here I put on my Value Judgement Hat - we hear of how many real works of art have been destroyed.

Wednesday, 26 May 2004

Out of the Long Dark

Duntrune Castle (A3, charcoal, compressed charcoal)
Posted by Hello

Patsy123 emailed me last night to say:

When you talk about your art your writing really speaks. I have never quite considered the anguish that goes with trying to portray who you are in your paintings.

It's true that painting is an anxiety-ridden occupation. When people say to me, "Oh, you're a painter, that must be so relaxing!" I can only counter with, "Only if I'm not doing it properly."

But this business of trying to find a way into a kind of painting that's not yet part of my vocabulary is one that I return to over and over again. It causes me a great deal of grief and discomfort. So why do I do it?

Luckily, I found my way back to the writings of Eric Maisel yesterday. Last year, when I was working my way out of the Long Dark, his book The Van Gogh Blues was a revelation. It genuinely turned me around. So it came as no surprise to me to find that only a short way into his Fearless Creating, I came across what I needed.

You're out walking and you see a shadow in a doorway. Something occurs to you; not in so many words, but as a vibration, a vision, a something. Because .... you have this anxiety to see the world and to solve its riddles, something happens. It is nothing but a shadow in a doorway, but you have a violent experience. At the same time, nothing is there. Just a shadow in a doorway.

Out of that experience, in the instant of its happening, comes the elusive ghost of an idea. An idea, in my case, for a painting or a drawing. Somehow it seems to be an idea in its entirety, but so ..... Indefinable; ungraspable; a miasma. There does seem to be something there, but what? Can I take it forward? Can it be taken forward?

As Eric Maisel has it, this is the anxiety of the hungry mind:

This is the painter Willem de Kooning explaining, "If I'm confronted with a small Mesopotamian figure, I get into a state of anxiety. I know there is a terrific idea there somewhere, but whenever I want to get into it, I get a feeling of apathy and want to lie down and go to sleep."

This is the wish confronted by the work, the wish uncertain if it has been confronted by the right work. Should this shadow in the doorway consume you? Yes? No? Why? Why not?

I feel my thoughts whirling round in my head, trying to make contact, one thought with another, to see the idea fully formed. I want it to be there so badly. I need it to exist so that I'll finally know a little more of the world.

Eric Maisel again:

But still you end up on the sofa, depressed and inert. What were you supposed to do with that shadow? And how dare you let it get away! In pain on the sofa, confused, failing yourself, you feel the vision evaporate, the moment pass. Gone! What was it about that shadow, that doorway? Who knows? Who cares? Where is the bottle?

All of which correctly identifies the feelings I go through. But how is it helpful?

Maisel points out that it's at this moment that so many art careers founder. People at this moment of shocking failure make the mistake of seeing it as tragic, a sign of emptiness. But he insists that it is by no means a tragedy:

This is no tragedy, this is hungry-mind anxiety! This is what must be tolerated if you are to be alive: data taken in, deep connections made out of conscious awareness, projects begun in a split second and abandoned in the next split second. This is pain, but not tragedy.

To be a fully-functioning artist I must come to terms with this. I need to recognise that the process is something wonderful and terrible. Important and uncontrollable. It will happen again and again, and though it may be difficult, ultimately it's worthwhile, because it's a sign that I'm fully connected to the world, ready to create.

[My apologies to Eric Maisel for what may well be rather heavy-handed paraphrasing of his often quite poetic prose.]

Today's horoscope tells me:

There's stuff going on that doesn't meet your eye. You want to get to the bottom of it, but you don't even know where to start looking. The only way you'll make progress now is to stop thinking. You're not going to find the solution using logic.

You may think this has been overly melodramatic; pretentious even. Do I care? Not a jot.

Tuesday, 25 May 2004

Post Apocalypse

Time for a small rant.

What the hell kind of postal system have we got now, where my post for the day comes through the letterbox after 7 o'clock at night? I get back from a night out with the Girls (CJ & Pam) and am immediately suspicious because my front gate is ajar. Who has been calling at my house at night? The postman, that's who! This whole system's barmy. What can I do with post at 11 o'clock at night? He might as well have delivered it in the morning at a time any proper delivery ought to be made.

Aaaargh (and other noises to indicate Old Git status).

Monday, 24 May 2004

Nearing the Event Horizon

Constant hammering I can deal with. Constant drilling, I can take. Even constant hammering and drilling would be bearable. But what I found I wasn't up to was sporadic outbursts of one or more of these, accompanied by the Magic 105.4 undercurrent. It was the sudden stopping. The sudden starting. The Horror....

If I'm in a club or a stadium, I'm happy to have my music loud, but at home I keep it to a relatively low level. Louder than the ex-Mrs Zip would have had it, but reasonable nevertheless. But it occurred to me today that the only way to deal with the Workmen's Cacophony from next door was to put something on the sound system and crank up the volume HIGH.

And lo, it worked. With the help of a lot of volume, Rabih Abou-Khalil, Down to the Bone, and Natacha Atlas successfully drowned out Lucy Smooth's Concerto of Noise.

But what then can you do in an atmosphere of Noise & Counternoise? Certainly not your 2003/2004 accounts, I soon discovered, or your mum's (no doubt doomed to failure) claim for Pension Credit.

Sitting with a cup of tea, I tried to get some constructive thoughts going in my head.

Not just any tea, of course, but Themis Koslanda Ceylon Black Tea (Organic & Fairtrade) with Guarana and Acerola. Ceylon tea is "traditionally used to boost mental alertness." The Amazon Indians consume Guarana "for its invigorating properties." Acerola, "to help give you an extra zing." I bought it in a short-dated stock sale at a health food store in Newcastle, along with some (non-apricot) yoghurt and a bag of green lentils.

Now fortified with mental alertness, my properties invigorated and with an indefinable extra zing, I climbed onto one of my mental roundabouts, brought on by considering the work of Mary Lloyd Jones.

It's a constant source of puzzlement for me: how to bring to the urban subject matter of my own work, the concerns of people like Mary Lloyd Jones and Derek Hyatt. Somewhere in here there's a crossover into the literary work of Peter Ackroyd and Iain Sinclair, but I haven't found it yet.

I went over my badly-conceived Mind Map showing connections between facades, plumbing, maps, doors & keys, books, masks, clocks, Mr Punch, magicians, fairgrounds, existentialism, decay and rust. And you know what? I was none the wiser.

By the end of the day, I felt like I was slowly circling a black hole of a headache.

Only a tin of mulligatawny soup has saved me from immeasurable personal pain.

Breakfast Waffles

Having spent most of last night coughing, hawking and spitting, I really wasn't in the mood for the arrival of Lucy Smooth's workmen this morning. They'd come to replace her front windows, and as I quickly learnt, this involved a great deal of drilling, banging, hammering, whistling (people still whistle!), repartee and of course, The Workman's Friend: a radio.

Unlike some lucky bloggers, who are troubled only by a noisy fondness for Radio 2, I had workmen who were into what sounded like Magic 105.4.

Putting in the URL, I discover to my surprise that Magic is a London station. When at University at Newcastle, we listened to Magic for a short while. Just long enough to realise that while they had a decent set of untroublingly MOR records, they only had about 15 of them. When they'd played them, they...played them again. And again. Nothing seems to have changed.

Amid the sounds of hammering and drilling, I shuffled about having breakfast and reading the post. Two letters from the same dental practice letting the man we bought the house from 12 years ago know his next appointment is overdue.

And another electoral address. This time from someone else crawling out of the woodwork: RESPECT, The Unity Coalition. I read it all carefully. I don't believe in dismissing people without giving them a fair hearing. I wasn't convinced, however, especially when I saw George Galloway's cheery face squinting at me from the back of the leaflet. Apparently, he's a "Respect MP."

I have little time for what's become of New Labour, and I generally show my socialist leanings quite openly, but most of this leaflet is of the old-fashioned, discredited kind of Old Labour.

"No to the euro and the new EU constitution."
"Raise tax on the big corporations to fund public expenditure."

In effect, let's get out of Europe and tax the big Internationals. Then watch them move out of Britain into mainland Europe, leaving us to our greater decline.

And inevitably: "End the occupation of Iraq." Couldn't agree more. The sooner the better. I was against the war in the first place. But how the hell can the Coalition forces simply pull out now, without at least trying to ensure some stability? I do think we're in a hole and digging fast, but what would happen to Iraq if it were left to its own devices now? Probably what I always expected: either an Islamic Fundamentalist government, or a civil war. I rather think one of these will be the outcome whenever we leave, but I don't believe our pretty soiled position in history would be improved by cutting and running now.

Saturday, 22 May 2004

I'm a political man, and I practise what I preach...

The cages of the various political parties have been rattled, it seems, and the leaflets are starting to come through the door. I exclude the Lib Dems from this, because their leaflets come through the door regularly and earn my respect for that.

For the first time the despicable BNP have sent me one, though as far as I'm aware they have no chance of any victory here. With their bullet-pointed paragraphs of Terrorist Time-Bomb; Asylum Time-Bomb; Financial Time-Bomb; Housing Time-Bomb I'm genuinely scared. But only of the possibility that someone may take them seriously. "The Patriotic Majority have finally found their voice," apparently. Let's hope no-one's listening.

The Lib Dems are the main opposition to the Labour controlled council in Gateshead, and I'm happy enough with the way they handle that. Their leaflets are generally aimed at local issues, with the proposal to scrap the Council Tax as their main national policy. I'd buy that.

Gateshead's Labour Council works quite well, and certainly does a better job of running the place than the one over the river. But I do find it irritating that they only leaflet before an election and spend most of their time warning about the iniquitous, and largely unspecified policies of the Lib Dems. I expect more Lib Dem gains this year, at least in the European election.

There are no Tory Cooncillors in Gateshead. This is a good thing.

Were they to be elected, however, I could look forward to: a crack-down on nuisance neighbours; the cutting of Council spending by slashing red tape and the council's glossy publications; the installation of more dog waste bins; the creation of committees to tackle litter and graffiti; and more regular checking of streetlights.

I'm swaying. Dog waste bins......streetlights.....committees of concerned middle-class citizens telling other folk what to do. Still swaying. Naaagh. Stuff 'em.

Notes from a Sick Bed

Not wishing to dwell on my near-death experience (AKA my cold), but it has kinda dried up my creative juices. Not only that, but I haven't felt up to doing much, so blogfodder hasn't come my way.

On Thursday, the Frootbat and I collected some of my pictures from the Biscuit Factory. Then, over a coffee back at Stately Zip Mansion, we exchanged our views on the increasingly cluttered Zip living room, bloggery, and loss of memory. I'm sure we touched on more, but.....loss of memory.

Later that day, I met Patsy123 in town. After a pint in the Bacchus we ate in Pani's again. Another good meal (lotsa chilli!). Then we went home. Then we had our Bourbon. Then we went to bed.

Apart from a bit of desultory grocery shopping, and a lot of hacking coughery, I didn't do much on Friday, other than finally get the solicitors to complete on my remortgage. Which is a good thing, in view of today's letter from the old lender, saying they're putting up the monthly payment by a tenner. I fart in their general direction.

I know going to bed early is always a good way to recuperate, but I did notice there was a serial killer movie on Channel Five last night. Classic Kill starred Molly Ringwald as a classical music radio DJ, stalked by a serial killer who kept knocking off people who'd offended her with bad reviews or radio rivalry. There was some romantic involvement with a rather forgettable and unattractive cop with an angular face and dirty-looking designer stubble. There were numerous, fairly obvious red herrings and no way to guess who the stalker might be because he wasn't introduced until the last ten minutes.

Worst of all, the killer got rid of his victims with a poisoned bottled of expensive red wine. Did they writhe? Did they scream? Did their eyes pop? Did they fuck! They just looked a little surprised and keeled over. If you're going to do a serial killer movie, you really do have to have an element of the Baroque. Think Se7en. Think The Bone Collector. Bloody hell, think The Abominable Doctor Phibes!!

Thursday, 20 May 2004

True Rat

My old buddy, True Rat, emailed me today about the Bumper Sticker websites:

I've combined several of the stickers into some nice wallpaper for my PC. I can't believe that there's still a chance Bush will be re-elected. Not personally knowing the President, it's a bit unfair to criticise him based on the writings of only his critics, but, darn it, the man's a fool. He shouldn't be in a job that doesn't largely involve counting his bogies as the main task. If Britain doesn't make you despair of politics then at least we can rely on the USA.

Dubya has been to tea here several times and I can confirm the man is an utter twat. He lost count of his bogies at ten.

(Note to self: be prepared to prove this when CIA call)

If you can read this, you're not the President

A good friend in the States just sent me directions to two sites selling bumper stickers. As he says, ignore the sales copy associated with the images and just enjoy the "celebration" of BushCo's personal Holy War.

It's good to know that dissent isn't dead in America.

Wednesday, 19 May 2004


I know it says, "Artist by day, blogger by night.." up there, but you're probably wondering whether I ever do any of this artisting. Doesn't get mentioned much, it seems.

It's beginning to puzzle me too.

Not because I'm not getting any artwork done, but because I'm not writing about it. I honestly thought that a large part of this blog would be taken up with the daily problems of making art. Obviously, it hasn't worked out that way, but I'm cool with it.

Why the hell am I writing this blog then? In her book, Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg says:

Baker Roshi from San Francisco Zen Center said, "Why? isn't a good question." Things just are. Hemingway has said, "Not the why, but the what." Give the real detailed information. Leave the why for psychologists. It's enough to know you want to write. Write.

I guess that'll have to do as an answer for now.

Socks or Curry?

According to the Editorial in La Petite Zine, this is the remedy for a head cold:

Soak a pair of cotton socks in a bowl of ice water. At the same time, soak your feet in a basin of hot water (not scalding, but hot as you can take if you want to intensify the process, take a hot bath). Once your entire body heats up (a little bit of sweat on your upper lip may act as your timer), remove your feet from the basin (or your body from the bath, in which case, towel off immediately and get into your
pajamas). Do the following in quick succession: remove the cotton socks from the ice water and put them on your feet; put on a dry pair of wool socks over the wet cotton socks; get immediately into bed, under sufficient covers, and stay there for 8 hours. Ideally, you should complete this process at night, and go directly to sleep. You will wake completely cured. At very least, you will wake with a clearer head. It works.

So it's ice cold socks versus a hot curry and a lot of whisky. I know where my vote goes.

Tonight, I have been eating mostly potato and leek soup with added chilli followed by oranges and a banana. Rounded out by a small yoghurt, not apricot. There was a pear and a glass of fino as an apperitif, and later this evening, the bottle of Bourbon will be wrung out. Socks? Didn't even bother to put any on.

Oh, I do like to be beside........

Lest you get the idea from the post about my cold that I'm ridiculously superstitious, let me reassure you that I'm a modern man who is fully aware that colds are caused by viruses, not by casting clouts.

Last night, in the absence of echinacea, I doctored myself with a fiery curry and generous amounts of a rather rough Kentucky bourbon. This morning, I find I'm feeling less like a person at death's door. Indeed, I felt well enough later last night to post a longish piece about Cafe Society, as I hope you've seen. In his comment, the Frootbat hints at surprise that I remember so much about those balmy days. Actually, it's quite easy if you simply download a paragraph or two from a disc marked FANZINE, typed nearer the time.

I'm pretty sure that I picked up this cold virus at the market in Tynemouth Metro station on Saturday. I stayed at Patsy123's place on Friday night, and when she went off to the Metro station at 7.30 to help a friend set up her stall, I did my part by keeping out of the way in bed. So it was, that by the time she came back to look for me, I'd had a leisurely breakfast and watched an exciting march-past by the TA, complete with military band. I expect they were demonstrating the effectiveness of our coastal defences to the Enlarged Europeans still lurking offshore in their container lorries.

It was a gloriously hot day, as good as any I've experienced abroad. As we walked up the main street, the crowds were making the most of the weather, and I felt like I was in a modern day Donald McGill postcard. There were lots of fat women in tight dresses with screaming kids, queues for the fish and chip shop, abandoned ice cream cornets lying on the pavement waiting for someone to slip, and - the modern aspect - scantily-clad girls with their shaven-headed, tattooed paramours, sinking lagers.

It felt good to be in England.

Tuesday, 18 May 2004

Au Café

Long ago, in a life far away, the Frootbat and I hatched a plan for the establishment of Café Society. We both harboured a Romantic vision of those days at the beginning of the last century when poets, writers and artists would hang out in the pavement cafés of Paris, discussing matters Cultural. Political and Philosophical. In the rosy days following our escape from the Office, we intended the coffee-houses of Newcastle to be the stage where we would put the world to rights over cups of good strong black coffee, Gauloises staining our fingers.

Except he would take cream with his coffee and neither of us would smoke.

The plan got off to a good enough start, with a session or two at Boskoops, at the time the only real coffee shop in town. On the first floor we could drink our coffee and look out over Old Eldon Square, where the Punks, Goths and Layabouts drink cider and throw beer-cans at the pigeons round the War Memorial. But things fell apart, the Heat Death of the Universe and that sort of thing, and once I started my University course, coffee days receded once more into the realm of Plans for the Future.

There came a point one summer when I felt we’d got back on track. We had a good two-hour long, two 4-cup cafetière conversation in the new upstairs lounge of Costa, on the corner of Grey Street (where the Peaches & Cream fancy underwear shop used to be). As the sound of pneumatic drills rattled in through the open window, we talked about whatever came to mind. Music: the latest tape-loop had just arrived from Buddy K that morning. Literature: the Frootbat had just finished The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists and I was part way into The Songlines. The Internet: neither of us connected, neither of us convinced of its current usefulness as opposed to its potential. Greg Dyke’s plans for the BBC: sacking middle management to save money to make programmes seemed a good idea; making dumbed-down “popular” programmes for BBC1 and ghettoising more demanding programmes on BBC2 (where they could be dropped because they didn't achieve good viewing figures), more worrying.

Like all good days, of course, it couldn't last and when the conversation descended to the construction and state of our trouser pockets it was clearly time to go. The Frootbat set off to collect his wife from her IT course and I went to the Grainger Market to buy the last few items for the gumbo I was concocting that night. Sadly, that was the last highly caffeinated afternoon of the year. By the time holidays were out of the way, I was due back at University.

A lot of things have changed since then. We're both on-line and devoted to the miracle of broadband. Greg Dyke is fading into history. I've graduated and am now a full-time artist. The Frootbat's time is increasingly taken up with more pressing matters, including grandfatherly duties.

But I still believe the world may hear of Café Society again.


I've often debated with myself the meaning of the old adage, "Ne'er cast a clout till May is out." I've generally come to the conclusion that the "May" referred to is actually May blossom, rather than the month of May. Seemed to make sense, in that, if the weather has been poor, the blossom will probably be late. Ergo, it will be too cold to cast any of those clouts accumulated over the winter.

But now I'm not so sure. There's certainly an abundance of May blossom about, and the excellent weather has seen me casting clouts like they were going out of fashion (actually, in the Toon, I think they are). But the month is not yet out.

And what has happened? I've got a sore throat, a snuffly nose and regular bouts of sneezing. I've got a cold! And is there any echinacea in the house? There is not. I NEED echinacea. For the love of god, ECHINACEA!!!

Monday, 17 May 2004

Gardener's World

So much to do, so little time. I have, I confess, fallen behind on my unexpressed but firmly-made resolution to get something into this blog every day, or as near as damn it.

I blame the fun. And the gardening. Could it be that these might not be mutually exclusive?

I like gardens. I like wandering round in them, bending down to read the labels and sniff for olfactory pleasures. I like to see how the gardener has played one colour off against another or created a visual architecture with differently shaped foliage.

But I don't like mowing lawns, or weeding, or hoeing, or any of the myriad tasks that seem to go into maintaining a garden.

Pruning. I quite like pruning.

As a consequence, the garden has become somewhat jungly. Until recently, I was able to blame the weather for preventing any reasonable attempt at maintenance. (Not, you appreciate, that there is ever anything other than sunshine on Tyneside, but sometimes there's a splashing effect from over the Pennines, or down from Scotland.)

It was Ted who stirred me into action. When he called a couple of weeks ago to exchange my drawing of Duntrune Castle for his Hermesetas and a can of PEK (We'd got them mixed up on the way back, as can so easily happen), his opening gambit was, "I have with me from the Council a Mowing Edict, such order to be effected on this property forthwith." I was stung, I can tell you. I didn't show it, though.

"Fuck off, Ted," I countered. I've been to Repartee Classes, too.

As always, the wheels of Mr Zip grind exceedingly slowly, but by Thursday of last week, I thought I might join in the general uplift of our street. It seems that everyone hereabouts has it in mind to block-pave their drives, and build on extra bedrooms, turrets, sheds, garages, observatories, flying buttresses and Guard Towers. The least I could do was mow the front lawn.

With my magic new Flymo, donated to me as a needy cause by my painter friend Mo, I was able to whizz over the daisies, clover, and dandelions, in no time at all, while even getting at the wisps of grass. A liberal spraying of spot lawn weeder and all was tickety-boo.

What I find happens when I put in an appearance in the garden, is that the neighbours like to come out and lend support, as if to say, "Well done, not too bad was it, why not try to keep it like that?"

It was Lucy Smooth's turn. She's a nice lady who puts in hours of back-breaking work in her back garden to grow enough vegetables to feed, well, all the people who seem to come to her house regularly to drink wine and sing fairly dreadful Songs of the Mediterranean. Today she was determined to show me up by scrubbing her decorative concrete paving with a brush and some "Mr Propre" cleaning liquid (her son works in Brussels).

I tried to distract her by talking about the weather, the thankfully absent junior footballers from over the road, and anything other than the state of the immediate landscape. But she wasn't having it. She cleverly manoeuvred us into discussing the back gardens and by the time I'd disengaged, I'd promised to have a look at the unusually large crop of dandelions I'd been nurturing.

Yet even a quick trim of the back lawn went reasonably well. I quickly discovered the branches I'd pruned some time ago, lurking in the long grass to upset Mr Flymo, and threw them into some other long grass on one of the former vegetable patches.

And there it was: a lawn with a haircut which only a wooly hat could improve.

I had an appointment with Patsy123 in Waterstones (tip: a good place to arrange to meet someone when you're habitually late) later that day, but I figured I had time enough to sit with a cup of tea and admire my efforts.

Despite my general reluctance to enter the gardening arena, I've always found that sitting in the garden makes me unsettled. I keep seeing things I want to do, and before I know it, I'm out of my seat and - usually - pruning like crazy.

And so it was again. Before the last dregs of Assam had passed my lips, I was up and about with the strimmer. I figured I could at least clear most of the long grass, buttercups and bitter cress, while avoiding the clumps of bluebells which have strayed into the vegetable patch while my back was turned. I'd reckoned without the aforementioned recently transferred woody prunings, of course, and the stumpy remains of last year's bronze fennel (kindly provided by Will Barrow's friend Matt - see Martock Beans). How could I forget about the branches which I'd thrown there only an hour or so earlier? You tell me. Could be the aluminium pans I used to use...

By the time I'd run into a branch or two, then taken the decision to move them again, this time to a spot up against the fence, I'd cut only half the savannah before I ran out of the long wiry strimmery stuff that is so essential to the smooth operation of the strimmer.

With a cry of "Bugger!"I retreated to the comfort of the garden chair for another cup of tea.

Everything packed away. Uncooperative strimmer cable coiled up, ready for the next time I needed to unknot it. Easily enough time to finish my tea, take a shower, get changed and go to meet Patsy123.

Glancing up, I noticed the two branches of Lucy Smooth's hedge which had escaped both the efforts of her son (as enthusiastic a gardener as I am) and my loppers to remove. It's a pretty daft hedge, frankly. It's actually a colossal tree (maybe mountain ash, but there are never any berries) which Lucy Smooth's late husband had bent and pruned into the shape of a hedge. A sort of bonsai on an enormous scale. Every year it's given its head and allowed to grow as much as it wants, so that by the end of summer it forms a serviceable wind-brake. By early winter, after all the leaves have gone, we give it a good old prune so it can start again in spring. This winter, neither Smooth Fils nor I were able to easily get to two of the taller branches and they'd now reached worrying proportions.

It came to me to try to bend one of them over with the aid of a rake, secure it and cut it off with the loppers. If it worked, fine. If not, I'd have lost very little time.

It didn't work. The branch slipped out of the clutches of my rake and sprang upright again. "Laugh at me all you will, "I thought, anthropomorphising once more, "but I'll get you yet." And I made to put away the rake prior to meeting my Patsy123 deadline.

Which is when Bob Eh rapped on his window. He'd been watching me again. He knows when I come out of the studio at 3 o'clock in the morning! Admittedly he's not got a lot else to do. He suffered a brain haemorrhage a few years ago and is paralysed down his left side. Unfortunately he was left-handed.

Anyway, it seems Bob Eh has a long-handled pruner which he was most insistent I borrow to have another go at the reach-for-the-sky branches. Bob Eh likes talking and seemed not to hear my protestation of a need to get ready to go out. "It'll only take a minute," he said. "But if you find yourself falling off the ladder, don't worry about throwing the pruner away." As if I would. I'd be more worried about falling into the pyracantha.

Climbing the ladder was fun. The more I climbed, the further the ladder sank into the lawn. But eventually I was up there, wobbling over the pyracantha. And with a bit of effort, the first of the errant branches fell to earth. Not so the next one. Even after I'd climbed over the fence, wormed my way up through Lucy Smooth's wonderfully productive fig tree, I still couldn't get the remaining monster into the jaws of the pruner. Mr Zip falls back defeated.

And late for Patsy123.

One thing I did get from Bob Eh. "What do you think of that shed next door to Lucy Smooth's?" he asked. While I was still grimacing, he continued. "Looks like a bloody Watch Tower, I think!"

Thursday, 13 May 2004

Will and the Beanstalks

I know I've been quiet on the subject of the wildlife on the Zip Estate. Partly this is due to my recognition that any hopes I had for the patter of tiny wings have been dashed. As I said, the collared doves gave up on the Cypress Highrise while I was gallivanting in Duntrune. But now it's clear that the blackbird I saw making frequent inspections of the Pyracantha Bijoux Apartments did not take up his option. At great personal risk I delved in among the spines today but, apart from last year's abandoned nest, there was nothing.

It seems that while this is clearly a very good place to eat, no-one wants to live here. Bugger.

I pulled out the old nest and found that it was being used as a squat by a family of woodlice. Ecch.

But news on the Special Bean front is good. Never one to move too fast, I left them in their plastic carrier bag, where they're thriving. I've had time to read the bumf that came with them from Will Barrow. It seems that, when I finally get them planted out, there's no likelihood of my finding a beanstalk to a giant's castle sprouting in the garden. Which is something of a two-edged sword, in that, while I wouldn't wish to have a giant crashing down from above, a goose that lays golden eggs would not go amiss in these days of straightened circumstances.

But no, these are Martock beans. Apparently (and I paraphrase the bumf from Will's mate Matt) they were for a long time "the traditional broad bean-type thingy" of the area round Bath (Martock being a place near Bath). They became lost because "better" varieties - whatever that means in this context - became more popular, but were rediscovered in their last growing place: the garden of the Bishop of Bath.

The object of the exercise is not to eat all the beans which hopefully will appear on the plants. This is an exercise in conservation, a "spread of custodianship." What I have to do is leave some to dry on the plant, until the pods are crackly dry, then put the beans in an envelope for next year.

Next year, of course, there will be a whole garden full of Martocks and I can stuff myself full as well as garner for posterity. And I can pass them on to other suitable custodians.

Mr Zip, Custodian of Beans. I like the sound of that.

My brain hurts

Despite the bit of the strap line that reads, "...blogger by night," you can't expect me to sit here blogging to you all night. Especially when there's a movie called The Beast in the Cellar about to start on BBC1. I think it's the one where Flora Robson keeps the brain of a serial killer in her cellar, but meanwhile, out in the shed.....

Wednesday, 12 May 2004

Raspberry Ripple

You throw a blog into the water to see if it floats and while you're waiting to see if it has more holes than a colander, the ripples spread out and up pops another. I hear from my old friend Will Barrow that the experience of reading Boogie Street has so rattled his cage that he's started a blog of his very own.

I trust you'll treat him with no less indifference than you have me. No, no, I jest. Honest.

Don't jerk me off!

Aaaargh! Just got back from collecting my mum's pension at the Post Office. I suppose I should be grateful for the continued existence of a Post Office hereabouts, but this one always pisses me off. They started out as newsagents, and until they shrugged their shoulders in a "Not my problem" kind of way when I complained they hadn't delivered The Observer, I gave them my business.

Then they started to stock groceries; bread, soup, microwaveable pasta, dog food, that kind of thing. This seemed totally unnecessary in view of the close proximity of a KwikSave which stays open until 8 o'clock at night. It just looked like greed and a wilful desire to drive the few remaining little shops out of business.

Then they took over the Post Office business. Rampant commercialism.

But none of this prepared me for today's horror. And this time it wasn't even of their doing. They simply provided the theatre for the appearance of....

...a packet of dog food called JERKY'S.

So what, you may ask? (And I wish you would.) At first, I thought nothing of it. But then a creeping doubt came over me, and while the queue stood still waiting for a dear old soul at the counter to finish the tale of her husband's dentures, I reached out and picked up a packet of JERKY'S.

And of course, they actually bore the brand name Pointer. They were actually Pointer's JERKY'S with game. Next to them were some Pointer's DOGSTICKS with chicken.

My blood froze.

You see where I'm going with this? This may well be the first example of a commercial product on which the superfluous apostrophe appears in the name. Obviously they should be Pointer's JERKIES!

Western Civilisation continues its collapse. We each begin to talk in our own individual language. Babel is upon us.

Don't tell me it doesn't matter. Don't tell me I'm aping Lynne Truss. Not so. It does matter. If they're called JERKY'S, I'm entitled to ask, "JERKY'S what?" And there isn't an answer.

By god, it feels good to get that off my chest. Off to the Old Farts' Club now, for a pink gin.

The Great Procrastinator

Looking at my ragbag of links to the left there, I'm beginning to see a pattern emerging: it's starting to look as untidy as the Zip living room at Stately Zip Mansion. Perhaps it's time to take advantage of one of Blogger's new templates. But which one.....? And what will happen to my laboriously arranged HTML edits?

I've lived much of my life like this. I still haven't put up the mirror in the bathroom in case it falls off and breaks some of the tiles which would be impossible to replace.

I guess it comes from a deep sense of insecurity.

Every now and again, however, I find myself saying, "Fuck it. Just do it! Bugger the consequences. What situation could arise from your actions that would be so dire as to be unrecoverable?"

Which is how I came to know Patsy123. And how I ended up blogging.

So look out, a new Boogie Street will rise from the ashes of the old!

Probably. Real Soon Now. And I've had the bathroom mirror for ten years now. Bit longer won't make much difference...

Tuesday, 11 May 2004

Hot News!

While helping CJ get rid of the Too Much Work Blues (ah, how I remember those) at the Sicilian restaurant, Pani's, tonight, I found myself with a face full of buccatini and no-one to talk to cos she'd gone to the loo. Looking up I found I was watching the "Hit Channel" on some Italian broadcast service. While a guy rattled on incomprehensibly over a video of some squawking bimbos, a banner ran across the bottom of the screen. If my Italian hasn't totally failed me, it seems Zak Starkly (sic), son of Ringo Star (sic) has joined Oasis and makes his debut with the English band at Glastonbury. Not hot news, huh? Do I care? Naah. I think it'll take more than Zak Starkly to pull their chestnuts out of the fire.

[Chestnut cliche provided by Over the Moon Services]

What's he building in there?

Time to come clean. The Zip Estate is not as big as I may have suggested in earlier postings. It certainly does not approach the six and a half thousand acres of the Laird of Duntrune, but I guess this is just as well. Mowing the lawn is not my strong suit, so a lawn that big would certainly fall into disrepair. No, my garden is much more modest; small even.

Which means that I have a particularly good view of that Guard Tower in the garden beyond Lucy Smooth's. I mean, what kind of a shed is that? It's hardly bigger than one of those cabins you find at the entrance to derelict-land car parks. When you go in the door, you must be almost up against the back wall. Sure, there's a window, but once you get a seat in there to look out, that's all you can do. That and watch the neighbours. I suppose you could open your garden to the public and collect entrance fees through your little window, but as this one's about twelve feet above pavement level, I don't think that's his plan. What's he up to? It's not a Man's shed!

Get jiggy with it

Caught in a recent trawl of the net, I found the On-line Orgasmus Simulator. Have a drink, then try it. Then get the ciggies out. But do try it all.

Monday, 10 May 2004

Blokeish Behaviour

The funeral on Saturday went with a real swing. I exaggerate, of course, but frankly I don't think there were too many people there who found the passing unexpected. The younger son had even opted for a fresh Spring approach of light grey strides and a striped Tie of Many Colours. Me? I put my earring in and spent some time talking art bollocks to various interested parties. There was a distinct lack of alcohol at the reception afterwards, perhaps because it was so early in the morning, but the buffet was more than adequate. As I left, I was invited to take a doggy bag, but the awful vision of the noxious couple of freeloaders described in Raised by Chaffinches came to mind, and I declined.

After that, it was into town to see buddies. In the relative calm of Fitzgeralds, I found Buddy K, Big Dave, Will Barrow and the Frootbat, well into a round. I say "relative calm," but in the Toon, all things are relative. Throughout the afternoon, groups of drinkers came and went, with varying amounts of noise. There were the usual gaggles of Fat Slags, giggling and snorting, their tattoos and navel rings on display between the skimpy bits of expensive cloth. Some were accompanied by more sedate blokes, dressed in their finest old jeans with their shirt tails hanging out. Mostly shaven-headed, they exuded Cool, as they puffed on their fags and followed on behind their impressive beer-bellies.

By the time we'd had several disagreeable pints of anything but the even more disagreeable Workie Ticket, and the Frootbat had destroyed the reputation of Islam yet again, we were joined by the women, Suzie Sue and the Apologist. They were carrying a four foot clipped yew tree, which went down well in the pub, and continued to be a source of local entertainment for the remainder of the evening. Almost as entertaining as the Apologist's new uppypusher bra, judging by Big Dave's reactions.

Diabetes and rumbling stomachs called for food, so leaving the Frootbat, we went off to Marco Polo's, where the tree was again well-received. Apart from the chairs, which seemed to be designed for the nursery and paid no heed to the concept of the human back, we had a good time, oiling the wheels of conversation with red and white wine. No, not red-and-white. Red. And white.

What else was there to do after that, but hit the Quayside and sink a few sambuccas at the Pitcher & Piano. Multiple sambuccas have become something of a tradition with Suzie Sue, but I guess I'm coming to the conclusion that one is probably enough. I think she was pleased to have her tree photographed there, though, but tried her best to be out of shot. I assured her that modern cameras would easily have included her with the tree.

"I hate to think that when I'm in my flat," said Buddy K, "that the Pitcher & Piano will be my local." I could appreciate that, so suggested that it might be worthwhile checking out the pubs downriver by the Ouseburn. The Tyne proved a blessing. It's one of those pubs I've never been in before, because in the days when I used to drink round there, it was an S & N pub with no real ale, but now it's excellent. Real ale aplenty, good bluesy music and a lot of live bands playing there several nights a week. My only reservation was that, dressed as I was for the funeral, I did feel a little out of place. I'd have felt better with a woolly hat and a dog on a piece of string.

By then we were euphoric. Scrambling about on muddy shrub-shrouded steps in a fine drizzle, we climbed up to the Free Trade Inn. Which was even better than the Tyne. Good beer, wonderful nicotine yellow walls which any interior designer would give his matching shirt and tie for, and a gents toilet covered in the most eloquent and original graffiti. "When the doors of perception have been cleaned, then we shall see the truth!" "These would be glass doors then?"

On Sunday, I did nothing.

Wigtown Mardi Gras

I got an email today from my mate, the Frootbat, who tells me:

The Wigtown International Book Fair & Festival of Book Towns is on from the 21st to the 23rd of May, with a 'Continental Market' being held each day. The Book Fair proper is on the Saturday and Sunday (
Bet your pulse is quickening already at the thought of that heady Wigtown bookfreak ambience....

If you detect a note of irony there, it's because we've been to this grand Scottish Booktown before and the visit did not live up to expectations. Hay-on-Wye it isn't, but that's not saying much either. Still, if the opportunity arises, I might give it another go.....

Friday, 7 May 2004

Nothing Sensible

On the bus into town. He is shrivelled and stooped, well-spoken, somewhat shabby, and could have once been an insurance man. She is young and alert, about 18, with a pony-tail and a big college folder.

He:"The name will mean nothing to you, but there was a man in charge of all of our armed forces, called Field Marshall Montgomery. Many people today believe he was responsible for winning the war."

He:"There is a law which says that for each and every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It's called Newton's First Law of Motion."

She "What did you do after school?"

He:"I was a butcher boy, but after some time I wanted to become a white collar worker. That meant that I would no longer wear an overall, which had a blue collar, but would work in an office where I could wear a white collar. With a tie."

She:"Didn't you want to go to university?"

He:"In those days you had to do National Service. You had to join the Army. Anyway, it was different then. There were only about four universities in the country. There was Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh.....I can't think of any more so there must have been only three. Newcastle University used to be King's College then, A high level of education, but not a university."

She:"What did you do when you came out of the Army?"

He:"I became an insurance man."

I can't wait to become older so I can impart my wisdom to unknowing youth.


Big Dave and Buddy K are in town. They've brought Buddy K's wife up to see the Sting concert at the Arena in Newcastle, but it's been cancelled (sore throat). This does not prevent the blokes going out on the town, however, so a quick meal and I'm off to an unspecified pub. I guess this is what mobile phones were invented for. Expect nothing sensible from me tonight.

And tomorrow I have to ease myself out of my pit and get suited up for a funeral at 10.30. Sometimes all your boats come in at once.

Hobnobbing with the Law

Crawling across the floor on my hands and knees this morning (the way you do), I came face to face with a piece of The Observer I'd not previously read. I used to be well up on the news. In the days when I cared about such things as promotion boards, I was a regular reader of The Observer and The Telegraph. I chose these diametrically opposed papers on the basis that they would give me a balanced view when answering the boards' questions. Didn't work, of course. They found ways of not promoting me ("We thought you were an outstanding candidate, but had to take account of the views of your superior officer [against whose views you had appealed in the first place]"), but I did become rather good at doing The Telegraph cryptic crossword.

Since freeing myself from office bondage, I've been more relaxed in my news-gathering. I still buy The Observer, but it takes me most of the week to get through it, and sometimes, as today, I come across bits that escaped my first trawl through. Anyway, according to what was probably the Comment column on this bit of newspaper, Bournemouth police have begun handing out bags of chocolate biscuits to boozers as they tumble out onto the streets at closing time. "People get frustrated and then aggressive waiting for either food or a taxi home" said an officer. "The chocolate will fulfill one of their needs and give them something to do with their hands." Hasn't life in Britain become bizarre? When I were a lad, if I got "frustrated and aggressive" after closing time, the best I could hope for from a policeman was a clip round the ear, never mind a bag of Hobnobs. Maybe they should take this further. Stop all this irritating arresting of people and change the police force to a catering and taxi service. It'd keep them off the streets.

Bean there, done that.

The trip to Leeds went off very well. Everything comes to he who waits, it seems. Will Barrow phoned to say that his licence had been reinstated, so he was able to drive me to the gallery with the five pictures. We got a little lost round about Weatherby, but that simply entailed driving through English countryside roads arrayed in glorious Spring finery, before hitting the road to Leeds again. No hardship there, and sunshine all the way.

The sky got a little miserable and wet nearer Leeds, but the journey back showed how splendid is the Tyneside area for its constant sunshine. Anyway, the pictures were well-received at the gallery and after a little quibbling over the price for one of them, I have some expectation of sales. This would certainly be a Good Thing, according to my most recent bank statement.

So there it was, a pleasant drive without surprises. Unless you count the beans Will Barrow brought me. Bean plants, that is. He tells me they are Special Beans. I know he spends a lot of his time going to markets in the area, but I don't think he ever had a cow to trade for beans, so.....what kind of Special might they be? They came with Special instructors, but I was too tired to read them when I got back.

Instead of going to the Scottish gallery preview at night, I picked up a pepperoni pizza and a bottle of £2.99 Hungarian Kekfrancos Merlot (don't try this at home - it was ghastly!) and did some comfy chair crashing. Despite the quality of the wine and my falling asleep towards the end of the evening's serial killer movie, I felt that, all in all, it had not been a bad day.

Wednesday, 5 May 2004

Million Dollar Brain

I rounded out my interesting day with a visit to my dear old mum, god bless her. Turns out she's won a million pounds (or maybe it was a million dollars), which is nice. Trouble is, that Tony Blair wants to marry her to get his hands on the loot. I told her she should tell him no, and we'll put the money in the bank for safekeeping.

I'm beginning to wonder if, like the man in Chris Priest's excellent novel, The Prestige,I haven't become two of me. Somehow, even as I wrote last night's blog, I was delivering to my mum an absolutely delicious cream eclair. And why the hell didn't I have one with me tonight? Incidentally, if you haven't yet read The Prestige, I urge you to do so as soon as humanly possible. You're in for a treat.

On the bus home, I peered over someone's shoulder to catch a glimpse of a headline in The Tmes. "I keep a serial killer's brain in my cellar," it read. Why on earth didn't I think of that? I've got a cellar. With a bit of rearranging of the paints and general junk, I'm sure I could find a flat spot for a serial killer's brain. Maybe it would give me a new hobby when I grow tired of painting and blogging.

Who ate all the pies?

By the time I came out of the dentist's, I was really hungry. I'd deliberately not eaten before going and the Nurse Counsellor hadn't helped by rattling on about how much she'd just enjoyed her ham sandwich for lunch. So imagine my delight when I got on the Metro and found myself opposite a man with a big bag marked Greggs. He proceeded to wolf down a huge pasty, crumbs falling all over the place. Then out came a French bread pizza. More crumbs. More gusto. Then another French bread pizza. There was no slackening of pace, no thoughts of "Isn't this enough?" crossed his face. Only more crumbs. At last he finished the second pizza....only to pull out a Kingsize Chunky Kit Kat and ram it in in huge pieces. No, no, I thought there can't be anything left in the bag. But there was: a double Twix.

Far from feeling hungry, by now I was mostly nauseous. And the bloke was such a skinny little dude. Where did it all go? Maybe to feed a colossal intellect? In a mood of crumb-bedecked contentment, he pulled out the last thing in his bag. It was a pristine pad of Basildon Bond notepaper. For the rest of the journey he sat and read, with evident interest, the front cover of his notepaper.


"Take a seat and I'll be back in a moment to show you round your mouth." So said the qualified Nurse Counsellor when I arrived at the dentists today. Apparently, at the behest of the NHS, dentists are to allow longer intervals between check-ups but provide more in-depth examinations and advice to encourage us to take better care of our teeth. This was the first of my 30 minute Dental Health Assessments, during which I was given a guided tour of my mouth with the aid of a little tv camera, shown how to operate a manual toothbrush and had my teeth and gums poked and pricked. I'd be the first to admit that the inside of my mouth is not my best feature and it wouldn't be the part of me I'd want to appear on television. But there it was on a little monitor, all resplendent in glittering metal and spit. Needless to say, this session cost me more than my previous check-ups, but having now seen an example of what my dentist has to look at every day of his working life, I'm almost inclined to say he earns his money.

For an additional fee - totally optional but recommended - my kindly Nurse Counsellor took a sample of my plaque and put it under a microscope linked to the monitor. Bloody hell! It looked like the compost bin at the bottom of the garden when I first take off the lid! Lots of little wriggling and squirming things which she told me were spirochetes and bummeroids or somesuch, all intent on causing gum disease. The thing about modern medicine is that it has all the tools now to really scare the shit out of you. So it's hardly surprising that she was then easily able to sell me some cute little interdental brushes and a bottle of mouthwash to destroy the wrigglers, though the fact that the mouthwash is composed of hydrogen peroxide leads me to think they'll just become blonde and too stupid to do their thing.

Mr Zip Unzips

I spent last night in deepest thought, engendered, no doubt, by my scotch egg curry. Don't knock it till you've tried it! A pack of those mini savoury eggs, a decent home made curry sauce with a few mushrooms and a bit of green pepper, and there you are - ersatz nargisi kofta curry. Made even the can of Fosters drinkable.

Anyway, as I slumped in the armchair, the divine Billie Holiday doing her level best to cheer me up, I fell to wondering whether blogging was really what I wanted, considering the barrage of comments not so far forthcoming. But then I realised it wasn't so very different from the response I used to get from sf fanzines. I'd publish those and rarely get comments from more than a quarter of the readership. OK, there's a question of scale here. I'm talking about fanzines with a print run of, at most, 150, compared to a blog going out to ...well....the world. The world? That's not too many.

But really, publishing is its own reward. I know there's a nice lady who publishes her blog and doesn't even have the facility for comments. Doesn't want them. I'd like comments, but am enjoying simply writing for myself so far. And getting to grips with HTML and like so.

I guess the most obvious way of attracting comments is to tell your friends you're blogging and point them to it, but I wanted to see if I'd get any without them. I thought I'd give them a month of blogging before Revealing All. However, I relented a little when I found Will Barrow was having a Bad Time. I thought it might take his mind off his troubles if he had the scintillating wit and pithy homespun philosophy of Boogie Street to keep him occupied. So he has Been Informed and tells me on the phone that he is Interested.

[This posting courtesy of Initial Capitalisations.]

Tuesday, 4 May 2004

Picture This

Bit of a disastrous day in terms of getting things done. I had intended to go to Leeds today with my pictures for the gallery's Spring Collection, but that all began to fall apart. Ever since Mrs Zip went off with the car (well, OK, it was hers and I can't drive), I've been reliant on the good offices of Buddies & Associates to move pictures about. Unfortunately, the Frootbat has a Photoshop workshop to go to, Mo's off to visit her sister and Will Barrow has had his licence suspended as a result of his newly-acquired diabetes. Which left the train, and I simply didn't get myself organised enough to follow through on that. Bugger.

So everything gets rescheduled. I'll take the pictures to Leeds on the train on Thursday, but now I won't take the Millennium Bridge (Raised) as it's too big to handle along with the five others. Luckily, Patsy123 emailed me yesterday to say she wants to buy Millennium Bridge (Raised) so under no circumstances should I take it to Leeds, and if I do, she hopes it doesn't sell.

As for today, I've knocked out of its frame The Burning Bush and put it back on the easel. I've always liked that picture, but it needed more work. Today it's getting it.

Other than that, it's an expedition Up the Hill to buy muesli, bread and fruit. Gotta live.

Europe Enlargement Marmite Shock Horror

I spent Sunday at Tynemouth, staying at Patsy123's new gaff. I figured being at the coast was the place to be because I'd be able to spot the hordes of New Europeans coming in by barge, surfboard and rubber ring. But no, not a sign of them. Eschewing the fascist rags as usual, I opted for The Observer, which reported that the expected tide Had Not Happened. We have not been Swamped by Foreigners. The paper recorded the arrival of a coal miner from the Czech Republic who had found a job in a factory outside London. He said he loved England because "...English love traditions. They like pets, Marmite, whisky, beer and football." Is this what the tabloid scaremongers would have us worry about? Come on! He's gonna fit right in. I'd certainly rather have a Marmite-loving Czech in Britain than Rupert Fucking Murdoch.

During the continuing sunshine, there was a brief shower of rain and as we looked down on King Edward's Bay from the window of the flat, we could see a rainbow. We were looking down on a rainbow! For a short moment all seemed right with the world.

A Proper Saturday

Saturday continued: met Patsy123 in town and picked up my pictures from the framers. Also took in a long-delayed canvas, now rolled up, to be restretched and framed for the Man with the Talent. Ran into the Man with the Talent and the three of us spent some time in the Bacchus drinking something unexpectedly pleasant from the Federation Brewery.

More importantly, however, I managed to get the two Proper Boxes I wanted! Proper Records produce some absolutely wonderful boxed sets of old jazz and blues. For a long time I've wanted to replace my old Duke Ellington vinyl and now I have, with Duke Ellington: Masterpieces 1926 - 1949.

Three or four years ago, I went to a party at CJ's with the then Mrs Zip. It was a themed party and to enter into the spirit of the thing I took along my Charlie Records compilation of Billie Holiday. One of the guys there (whom I'd never met before) asked me if he could borrow it to tape because his compilation didn't have "Strange Fruit" on it. I usually make a point of refusing on the grounds that such loans tend to become permanent, but Mrs Zip was making noises about my being mean at the time, so I relented. And where am I now? Without my Charlie Records compilation or Mrs Zip! Don't you just hate it when that happens? But Saturday saw everything turn out fine again. In addition to the Ellington, I got Billie Holiday: The Lady Sings. (which also has "Strange Fruit"). Woohoo.

Each box contains four CDs and a pretty informative 50-odd page booklet, and I got them at HMV under their "2 for £20" deal. Eight CDs for 20 quid - can't grumble at that.

Saturday, 1 May 2004

Mr Zip v. the Millennium Bridge

Well, here it is, nearly 3 o'clock, but I broke the back of the Millennium Bridge! A few glazes and the thing will be finished. And so to bed.