We didn't do much, and yet it took me a further 22 days after our return to finish the diary. Work that one out.
Anyway, you can read the whole thing at http://myfanwytristram.com/2015/04/27/f
Situated as we were at the very top of the hill, looking down over the sea to east and west, you could see the dark grey clouds as they sailed towards us, then away again. The heaviest shower was, fortunately, just as we were having our lunch, and we were able to squeeze into the Portacabins; the second-heaviest, though, was in the afternoon after lots of insignificant sprinkles, and those of us who chose to keep on working through it found that we were kneeling in muddy puddles, and had our movements impeded by stiffened limbs and heavy clothes.
Soon after arriving, I was collecting my bucket, kneeling pad, trowel and shovel, and shown which compound I'd be working in. I'd rather expected lengthy training, but it turned out that all I had to do was to kind of scrape over the ground with the trowel until I reached the chalk bed, a couple of inches below.
Anything that wasn't chalk or soil was potentially of interest, and we had to put it in a 'finds' tray; everything else went in the bucket and then was tipped out onto the ever-growing hill of spoil at the back of the plot. I was probably over-zealous with what I kept, but I'd rather have been safe than accidentally discard something significant. Especially as, later on, I heard about someone on some previous dig finding a gold ring on the discard pile.
The woman next to me, a very pleasant lady who seemed to know a lot of people and be involved with many community projects, found a flint that looked to have been worked, literally within a minute of kneeling down to start digging - but that was about as good as it got. I had the feeling that the dig wasn't as bountiful, in terms of finds, than those that some of the experienced diggers were used to.
We found small pieces of probably Victorian pottery, but not much even of that. There were oyster shells, probably again Victorian, from when you would have come up to the racecourse for a race and some seafood. A couple of small bones, some flints that went in the tray even though they didn't particularly look shaped, just because they were flints and there weren't many about.( Read more...Collapse )
Bank Holiday Monday - of COURSE it's been tipping down all day.
Unfortunately, it's also the first of my scheduled two days on the Whitehawk archaeological dig. Above, the TV mast where we were supposed to meet at 9:20 this morning. Being an obedient type, I was there, along with several species of slug, most of them larger than I would find preferable, and all shades of tan, brown, and orange.
Rain isn't ideal for digs: it's not just that it's miserable for the participants; apparently it can also be bad for any artefacts, which can get squidged underfoot more easily. None of us could get an optimistic forecast for the day, even across the wide variety of weather apps on the assembled people's devices, and all activity was called off.
I'll try again tomorrow, though the forecast isn't looking much better, I've taken the day off work; if it is still pouring down, I might try to work anyway and swap for a day later in the week, though there are only four days left of the project.
One silver lining was that I got to have a cup of tea and a wider debriefing in the project portacabin. One thing I didn't realise about the project was that we (I say 'we', despite not having lifted a trowel yet) are deliberately not excavating the main area of the monument, and the reason is that they *know* there would be rich findings there - the budget of this project, and the quantity of volunteers, means that they actually wouldn't be able to process that quantity of stuff in a measured and coherent way, resulting in a published paper.
So, sensibly (or frustratingly, depending on how you look at it I guess), we are excavating in several small areas where geophysical surveys have suggested there may be man-made anomalies - extending knowledge of the actual formation of the monument. So far, it sounds like the findings have mainly been confirmations of negatives, that is, that this or that bank is actually a natural feature rather than, as was suspected, part of the monument. A few flint tools have been found, but not much else.
Jon went over the history that he'd covered in the recent meeting, but this time in more depth. As there were just a few of us, we were able to ask questions, and I was really interested to hear about some chalk 'artefacts' that apparently had no obvious use except to be decorative, marked with a crisscross pattern that has also been found on quarry walls near Worthing (I think I have got this right; however, I was not taking notes so this is from memory); and also the patterns, based on cereal crops, seen on some pottery.
One thing I found interesting was how little we actually know. There is plenty of extrapolation and an accepted story of both the monument's building, and the wider circumstances of man's living arrangements and provenance around that time, but it was so long ago and no-one can be sure.
I wanted to know what would have been at the centre of all these concentric rings - or perhaps there was nothing, I suggested, wondering whether it was only modern sensibilities that would expect a focus in the middle of such a set-up. There are various ideas, but no-one knows for sure. Perhaps ceremonies, or actions that leave no artefacts, took place there. Perhaps there was a wooden structure, which would certainly not have survived through the centuries.
Jon suggested that Neolithic man was the first to have made substantial changes to the landscape, and to have experienced the effects of them. After their arrival (across the sea from Europe, in small groups, with livestock, which is one of the things that blew my mind a little), it seems that they began quite widespread deforestation of the South Downs, which would previously have been covered in thick woods. As a result, the very deep topsoil at the hilltops would have been swept away by rains, leaving a much poorer chalk surface for farming.
He also said that the incomers were the ones to introduce the 'domestic', farming way of life to Britain (it was already quite established on the continent), and this could have had a marked effect on population numbers. People who stay put can have larger families than those who are always on the hunt, and the younger members can be put to work helping to grind corn, etc. (Here he paused to wonder which way of life is actually better, given that apparently skeletons have been found where the repetitive task of grinding has actually caused some damage).
Coming back to this project, more than anything is is to help raise awareness and to protect it. In the last 100 years, the spot has been used as quite a dumping ground; parts have been given over to allotments, which would have tilled over some Bronze Age barrows that are thought to be in the area. A road has been built over the centre; the racecourse is also over the top of it and, despite its protected status, people seem to have forgotten just where the parts that need protection are. Cars are allowed to park right on top of some of the site's central structures, and none of this can be doing the remains any good.
Wish me luck for tomorrow - although, apparently there are quite frequent digs all over Sussex that are open to the public via the Brighton and Hove Archaeological Society. For me, the trouble would be finding the time to commit - I can't help noticing how many of the participants are of retirement age - but I may well look into joining in, if my part in this dig comes to naught.
If you walk to the end of our road, you'll find houses which have spread out benches and tomato grobags and laundry-airers, and children who play out, because cars don't disturb them. You'll also find a small gap in the wall, leading to a bramble-lined muddy path.
Follow the path and within a few yards you'll see wooden shores shoved into the earth of the hill, creating steps which - while useful - are variably spaced and hard on the knees.
I've yet to manage to ascend the whole flight and stay in breath, but it's always worth it, no matter what time of year.
They take you through the woods and out to the wildflower-covered hilltop, and from there you can look right down to the sea, the pier, the coast as far as Shoreham, and half of Brighton.
That hill is called Craven Vale: on the other side of it are allotments, and if you walk northwards from where you find yourself after climbing those steps, you'll pass the radio mast and arrive at the race course - where I begin many of my lunchtime runs, and to where I made my way last night for a small gathering.
I've been vaguely aware, since we moved to this area 10 years ago, that there was a neolithic site at the top of this hill - but to be honest, I rarely thought about it.
My impressions of Craven Vale and Sheepcote Valley have been much more shaped by my experiences there: blackberry picking, running further and harder, and discovering the seasonal variety in the wild flowers, birds and animals as I did so - and enjoying the view as the swathe of rough ground slopes gently to the sea.
If I thought much about its history, it was more about its use as a landfill site before it was resurfaced and returned to the downland it is now. But, as our convener Jon Sygrave, of Archaeology South East was to explain to us, its history goes back much, much further.
We met on Manor Road, just where I generally slip onto the grassland and begin my runs. Last night I found out that it's also pretty much the central point of an enormous Neolithic monument.
And here's what Jon told us.
It's thought that the monument was built around 3,650 BC. This was the point in history when man became more sedentary: they'd started farming cereal and animals, so it was no longer necessary to follow game around the country.
Analysis of their remains shows that 95% of their diet was from domesticated species - only a small portion would have been from fishing or hunting.
This site predates Stonehenge by 700 or more years and as best we can tell, it has significance beyond merely being a monument. Previous excavations found a lot of human remains, but also cattle bones, pottery and evidence of feasting.
Neither was it a defensive structure. It consists of concentric banks, but the banks have breaks in them, so would not have been useful for defence. Astonishingly, you can still see one of the banks very clearly by eye - Jon pointed it out to us.
In 1830, this site was first identified and documented by a Rev Skinner, who drew up plans. Then in 1920 there was a survey and 'bozing' - the dropping of heavy weights to check the sound to see if there are hollow areas.
The 1920 survey uncovered a lot of artefacts that haven't been examined in recent times, and more sophisticated methodology may uncover new facts, so part of this project involves volunteers going into Brighton museum archives and seeing what is there. Since that time, there has been a bit more exploration, such as a geophysical survey that found "a lot of modern rubbish, but it was still useful because we could see the shape of what was underneath".
In 2011 they figured out that 4 to 5 generations built and used this monument. They also mapped at least 4 or 5 concentric circuits and believe there might be more - the area covered stretches from one end of the racecourse stands almost up to the radio mast.
It was granted Scheduled Monument status; nonetheless, Manor Road was built right over the top of it (I have also read that the racecourse should, by rights, never have been allowed to be built where it is).
After that bit of history, we walked to where we are going to be based. For the first couple of days, diggers are going to come in and remove the topsoil (it will all be replaced by Brighton park rangers after the dig, and seeded with wildflowers) and then we will be volunteering in blocks of up to four days.
There has been a lot of interest in the project and it's even going to have a BBC 4 programme made about it, so if we find anything interesting, we have to be prepared to re-enact the moment for a video diary.
We also have to be prepared to find some gruesome remains. I guess we were all thinking about that after Jon mentioned the earlier finds; someone came out and actually asked. "If that worries you...", Jon began - but no, apparently he was looking forward to it...according to his friend, anyway.
I'm really, really excited now. I've been thinking what an amazing thing archaeology is - it's like a mixture between a giant lucky dip, and a game where you (hopefully) find clues that tell us things we never understood before.
And to think that people enjoyed the same views (ok, without the buildings and radio mast and Roedean school... but you know what I mean) *6,000 years ago*. It's almost too trite to say, but at the same time... they were people, just like us in some ways. What were they thinking? What were they doing? Maybe we'll find something that helps answer that.
I'm not involved until right at the end of the dig, and because of our holiday plans, only for a couple of days, but I am so looking forward to understanding more about the hill at the end of my road. It'll certainly give me something new to think about as I'm running on Sheepcote Valley!
- Getting married
- Having a baby
- Moving house.
Unfortunately, these are also the times when it would be really nice to send people a hand-illustrated card with your news. I did manage hand-drawn invitations when we got married. I sure as anything didn't manage a birth announcement, or any kind of drawing for about 6 years after. But here is a picture which I'll be sending to my friends about our change of address (I've removed the street number and name, you know, in case of crazy people, but on the original, the number is in that yellow circle, and the name runs along the street. The map isn't particularly accurate or to scale).
I wanted to convey a couple of things about the street that we've moved to: that it consists of a terrace of little houses that dips comically in the middle; and that it ends at the foot of a towering hill. As it happens, there's a TV mast at the top of the hill, so it seemed like a nice idea to have that broadcasting our news.
Amazingly, the scanner has started working after the move. I still can't get the printer component of the same machine to start working though, so getting these printed out and physically sent to people is more of a challenge than it really ought to be.
Last weekend was a hot one. On Saturday afternoon, we spent a bit of time on the beach with Isadora and her dad; on Sunday, Item woke up with an encore of the weakness and nausea that had kept her off school for two days the week before, making me wonder if it was sunstroke.
I woke her up and got her out of the house early on Sunday, though, because I'd seen on Facebook that there was a march commemorating 100 years since women got the vote. Women from towns all over the UK have been setting out to walk to London, at different intervals depending on how far they are from the capital. Down in Exeter, my mum had seen her local pack the week before; we are only 50 odd miles from London, and they were setting off to arrive yesterday.
As regular readers will know, Item has been rather obsessed with the suffragettes, so I thought it was worth the walk down to the pier, even if she was feeling a little dodgy. I think it was, in several ways. First, the actual group of women walking was quite small - not everyone can spare a week, or even a day joining in - so it was good to give them some support.
Second, Item got to meet Caroline Lucas, our Green MP and the first woman MP to represent Brighton in Parliament.
I got to speak to her too, not just about Item, but also about my work, of which it turned out she is a fan.
She gave a really stirring speech about women's rights and how it had been thought that mad women with their irrational views would overrun Parliament, given the chance, and yet there is still a woefully minority of women representatives.
The whole event reminded me of political rallies that my mum took me to: CND, Greenham Common, Hiroshima vigils. We all sang a special version of 'Glory Glory Hallelujah' and as I looked down into Item's earnest little face, singing out, I got that curious warm feeling that you encounter when you are passing on a piece of your own childhood to your progeny.
There were enormous crowds and tv cameras at the pier, but unfortunately it turned out that they were not there for our event, but to film some sort of dance event for Channel 5, and their music threatened to drown out the second speech, by Baroness Gould.
Her speech was a bit longer and a bit more complex, and Item needed to go to the loo, so we missed the setting off. Afterwards we took the Volks Railway to the Marina, did some Asda shopping and then went home, where Item just wanted to do this for the rest of the day:
I've had this Gudrun Sjoden dress pinned to my wish I could justify that Pinterest board for.. well, for 25 weeks, according to Pinterest itself.
Something about the pattern and the colours really appealed to me, and the cut is one of the few that actually suits my frame.
It had become a benchmark in my mind - I'd see a cheaper dress that I liked, in a shop, and think, 'yeah, but if I buy two like that, I might as well buy the Cirkus dress, and the Cirkus dress is definitely twice as nice as that, so..'
As we know, it's quite easy to justify any purchase with this sort of logic eventually. 'Ooh, I'm so good, I didn't buy these fourteen things I briefly liked the look of, so now I can definitely reward myself with the thing I really want'.
And that's the stage I'd reached last week. The Gudrun sale was on, my resolve had weakened, and I was going to buy the dress.
Oh, I'm q sad I missed my chance to get the @GudrunSjodenUK Cirkus dress. I was too strict with myself and now it's gone :(— Myf Nixon (@mockduck) July 19, 2013
The tweet says it all. The leggings were still available, the tunic was there, but there was no dress to be had. And that's when the amazing thing happened. Gudrun Sjoden tweeted me to say they'd look out for a dress and send it to me, if I'd draw it here.
Talk about an offer you can't refuse - why, even if I'd bought it with my own money, you know I'd be sitting down to draw that thing.
Now in the end, they couldn't actually locate a dress in my size, and they sent me the tunic. I have to say, I wouldn't have chosen the tunic myself, BUT, now I've tried it, I'm sold. It comes with a belt, and you can wear the tunic Robin Hood style, a little bit pulled over the belt, which - rather than emphasise voluminous post-baby tummy, which I suppose was my fear - actually looks rather nice. This tunic is going to be paired with black skinny jeans and boots all autumn long.
It *was* fun to draw - though you'll note that I didn't draw the whole pattern. Artistic licence!
To make the whole thing even more special, it came in not only a floral-patterned envelope, but a polka dot tote bag. It's as if they knew about me and polka dots.
And there you are, my first ever 'sponsored post'. Almost certainly my last, though, y'know, if Fat Face, Bravissimo, Boden, or *breathes* Marimekko would like me to draw myself in any of these, I am right here, and, evidence shows, fully amenable. :)
When I lived in the housing co-operative (in the early to mid-nineties), there was a bookshop a few streets away. Painted bright yellow, it stood out from its surroundings. All down the narrow street to the seafront were metal back doors into hot and dirty restaurant kitchens, with giant-sized cooking oil cannisters piled up outside them. Then, near the bottom, you'd see this sunshine yellow facade, with a bench outside. The shop was named after the building's former life: The Public House. One of my flatmates worked there for a bit, subsidising her MA.
These were the days when, rather than seeking the book you wanted online, you browsed a bookshop to see what it had on offer. I didn't have much of an income at the time, so it wasn't somewhere I shopped frequently, but I suppose curiosity must have overcome penury at some point, because I certainly bought at least a couple of eye-opening/mind-expanding magazines there. And probably my book of Patti Smith lyrics, and a book or two about the Velvet Underground.
It was a bookshop born of the Seventies, and as such, I should have found it rather comforting: its stock touched on many of the same free love, free food and free minded topics that lined my parents' own bookshelves. Many of the books and magazines on offer here, though, pushed boundaries far further than my parents would have been comfortable with, and in retrospect I think that my horizons were widened a little more than I expected.
Yesterday, I went to a talk by the shop's founder, Richard Cupidi: I booked the ticket out of pure curiosity, remembering his name from when my flatmate would come home with tall tales of things he'd done or said that day. The Public House bookshop closed in 1999, one of several small independent bookshops that Brighton boasted when I first arrived here, but that have almost all gone to the wall.
The small room where the talk took place soon filled up, and, as well as a few younger folk, the audience seemed to comprise the hip elderly. There was a grandma in jeggings. A wheelchair user in leathers. An old lady with two very long plaits. Grey-haired men in flawlessly-tied statement scarves. The two older women in front of me were having a good catch-up talk about how Cupidi used to hand out hash brownies at the shop.
Unfortunately, I didn't catch the name of the guy who gave Cupidi's introduction, but it was very good. And then Cupidi spoke. He's a very compelling raconteur, and an hour passed very quickly, as we listened to his anecdotes - and only a few visuals, because, he said, when he came to look back through his keepsakes, he realised they'd been too busy *doing* to record much, and of course, these were long before the days that everyone had their own camera in a mobile phone, or was uploading videos to YouTube or blogging everything.
I was very struck by how these visuals echoed the norms of my childhood: that flyers were type-written and photocopied or mimeographed; posters were often hand-written; so much was black and white.
He came to the UK from the States, and was living in Clapham in London when someone offered him a job in Brighton. His UK geography being vague, he mistook it for Brixton and assumed he'd be able to walk there. But when he came down - by train - he fell for Brighton: "This place is absurd", he thought, "It shouldn't exist".
To hear him tell it, he got the four-storey building for free - times have certainly changed in Brighton. After its beginnings as a pub, it was briefly a corkscrew factory, and then lay dormant and boarded up for years. In 1973, Cupidi went to see the estate agent, who gave him the key to look round: he asked when he should bring it back and was told 'there's no hurry'. Now, whether or not he subsequently paid for it, or leased it, he didn't make clear, but they cleaned the place up (he says, when he thinks back to that first glimpse of it, he could swear there was an actual pond upstairs. With tadpoles living in it) and it became his family home as well as a community bookshop, learning space, creche, gallery, etc etc.
On the front of the shop was painted, "Read for power. The book should be a ball of light in your hands". Books were shelved, not in sections, but purely in alphabetical order, with the idea that customers would thus be more likely to stumble across something new. The shop was run as a co-operative (in all things, including stock) and, Cupidi agreed with the ex-members of his staff who were present, pay was low.
The more dramatic parts of his talk covered a visit from Allen Ginsberg, who said the shop was 'better than City Lights'; and attacks from fascist extremists, who threw a fire extinguisher at Cupidi and used to shatter its windows with marbles. In 1999, the end of the net book agreement (which allowed bookshops to set their on pricing) meant the end of the shop altogether.
They paid off their debts, in strict order: the smallest enterprises got paid first. The Public House is now a private home, and Cupidi is a hypnotherapist. There is a fantastic thread on the local history site, with memories so of their times, and the perfect revelation that the daughter of the other hippy bookshop in town (Unicorn Books, before my time) was named Circe.
The talk really impressed on me how much Brighton has changed, even in the couple of decades I've lived here. I suppose one doesn't notice that a zeitgeist is a transient thing, especially when it's the one in which you're becoming an adult. If I'd known that the Public House bookshop was a symbol of an era that was dying out, would I have regarded it differently? Probably. Fortunately, things simply are what they are, until hindsight kicks in.
We'd set the alarm. We'd laid out Item's t-shirt, bib and shorts. We'd figured out what time we needed to leave the house to get her to the start point on time. And we left the house ahead of ourselves, rationalising that it'd be good to get there early and see the set-up.
So everything was fine, until we got to the bus stop and realised there were NO SODDING BUSES RUNNING.
And the worst of it is, in the back of my mind, I reckon I knew this. I'm sure it was last year that I was trying to get across town to pick up a portrait of myself, worried about being late because there were no buses. And I'm sure I'd seen some posters on buses in the last couple of weeks, but vaguely thought, oh it won't affect us surely - we'll be setting off way before the marathon affects the centre of town.
Not that the bus company was any help at all today. When we reached the stop, there were four or five people waiting. The electronic sign was blank - not an unusual occurence and not necessarily a sign that the buses weren't running - in fact, they normally put a scrolling message at the foot of the sign to warn of any delays, etc. Across the road, a bus was parked, pointing in the other direction. When I ASKED, the driver, who had been standing in the street looking across at us, told us we would be waiting all day if we were hoping that a bus would arrive. Would he have bothered to tell us otherwise?
We had a 1.5-mile walk ahead of us - to get to the spot where Item was supposed to run a mile - and 40 minutes to do it in. I have never felt like such a poor parent. After a night of anxiety dreams, it felt like I hadn't actually woken up. I was alternately apologising gravely to Item, and asking her if it was a dream. "No, because I'm here as well," said possibly-dream-Ites.
On the way down St James' Street, I'd tried a cashpoint which wouldn't take my card, then found a second, only to find that the woman in front of us was feeding in one card after another to get a balance on each. Finally we found one and got out enough cash for a cab. But was there any point in ordering one? By the time it came, and navigated through the blocked streets, we'd be better walking. East Street, where the taxi rank would ordinarily have been, was completely fenced in.
At Churchill Square, there was a bus waiting at the stop. We ran for it. The bus pulled away. We tapped on the door... the driver let us in. Thank god! We rode a few stops, got off at Waitrose and hurried down Waterloo street to the Peace statue, me checking the time obsessively.
We made it. Thank god. The races were in age bands, at five-minute intervals, and the two batches prior to pink were warming up when we arrived. At this point, I bumped into a woman from my NCT group, whose daughter Hannah was born at the same time as Ites - she was running too. We had time for a quick chat, and then the pinks were ushered into a pen for a warm-up, led by an ebullient yoga teacher, that had them dancing to a selection of music, culminating in Gagnam Style.
I lost sight of Item, then saw her, throwing herself in to the warm-up; then they corralled the pinks into the starting pen and I couldn't see her at all. I got a head start on jogging towards the finish line, on the lower prom, since the race itself was on the upper road and lined with spectators.
Half way along, I heard cheers and could tell that the race had caught up with me, so I mounted the steps to the upper prom. Again, I couldn't see Item at all. I waited 'til the very last walking stragglers had passed, then took off again. I often avoid this stretch of pavement on sunny days, because I know there'll be pedestrians everywhere, but that's nothing compared to the people, pushchairs and bikes I had to weave around today.
At the finish line there was a heaving scrum. I could see The Boy, but he couldn't see me, and didn't hear his phone. In the end, continuous loud, unladylike shouts got his attention. He'd found Item. She'd run the mile and she had her medal (the same stretch of road would be the final mile for the proper marathoners).
I am SO ridiculously proud. One nice thing about the medals is that they are almost the same as the 'real' marathoners' ones - they have the same picture of the West Pier, and the same ribbon, and are metal.
By the time we'd found the crossing point on Marine Parade, the marathon proper was running up St James' St, our route home. We ducked into a coffee shop and watched the tired runners, relatively early in the course route (about mile 5). They were tackling the sort of hill that you don't give a moment's thought to when walking, but which becomes painful for runners. Some of them already looked well-knackered.
It was only about 10:30 by the time we got home. That was rather a lot of effort for so early on a Sunday, with rather more worrisome elements than I usually prefer to encounter before I'm properly awake - but Item is already resolute that she wants to enter again next year. When we will make better travel arrangements.
While posting blurred phone photos every night holds a certain charm, I was curious to know what the images would look like scanned in properly and cleaned up.
The answer seems to be 'more polished-looking', but possibly also, 'less immediate'. Also - it's pretty amazing what you can do with Photoshop and a sheet of grubby old paper.
Anyway, for mockduck completists, here they are. It's ok, I don't expect you to read the whole set again. There are a few additions, mind you - little drawings that I added later.
I kind of wish I had time to do this every day, though let's face it, an average working day in front of the computer doesn't yield many pretty wrappers and views.
One welcome, but unexpected, side-effect of this diary is that it's consolidated something for me: I think this format would work really well for the cartoon book I want to do about running (when you're non-sporty and in your forties. Hey, that rhymes).
This is *such* an unflattering rendition of The Boy!
( The restCollapse )
- Current Mood: blah
The Lexington is a beautiful venue: one of the old-style London pubs with enormous windows that I would love to draw, no less live in. It was about a 15-minute walk from St Pancras, then through a side door and up the stairs into a very small venue - about half the size of where I saw Nick Cave, though about the same number of people made up the audience in the end.
Billy's fans are so clearly the kids of the Eighties. There were a few younger people, but the vast majority of us were mid-forties. Mainly male, actually; many with beer bellies and bald heads, many dressed in pristine gig t-shirts in shades of khaki, and many who spent the gig in a state of reverence, eyes closed, lip-syncing to the music.
Without any pushing at all on my behalf, I ended up in a position front and centre; it was a well-behaved audience, and it was simply that no-one else had taken that spot. Andrew Collins was DJing, but as I'm clearly not up on my cultural icons, I'm afraid this meant nothing to me until I got home to Wikipedia.
Bragg's newly-assembled band took their places on the small stage, and he welcomed us, apologised for having a nasty chest infection, and we were off with Ideology.
Now, I don't know much about musical theory, or playing music, but the instruments on that stage were a delight to watch and listen to. Apart from Billy's several guitars, including the ones that make his trademark early-career clunking chords, there was one of these - apparently called a pedal guitar, and really a couple of guitar necks laid horizontal, and plucked.
And something that looked like a double bass after it had been on a severe diet.
Billy's particularly adept at affable chat between songs, and the anecdotes ran free - from when he met the Queen, largely to confound people's expectations and to please his mum, to how Johnny Marr was the hands-down nicest person he met in the whole of the Eighties. And you get the feeling niceness counts for a lot in the Bragg universe. He was basically as twinkly-eyed, beardy and jokey as you'd want your middle-aged icon of pop to be.
( Here"s the set listCollapse )
As I mentioned [friends-locked post], my first brush with Billy was back in the Red Wedge days; his work on Woody Guthrie songs put him firmly back on my radar, and these days his work is particularly familiar to me because of two things: several of his more upbeat tracks come round routinely on my running playlist; and he also features quite a lot on Item's go-to-sleep playlist.
The very final track was great for me, because every lyric accords with a distinct part of Sheepcote Valley, and it's not overstating the case to say that some of those lines have distracted me well enough to push me to greater heights when I really just want to come to a halt.
How funny it must be, releasing music into the world, and imagining people taking it out on their little devices and listening to it in all sorts of different circumstances, from lonely, late-night bus rides, to sweaty runs across fells, to who knows where and with what emotional backdrop.
I mean, that must have been true of vinyl, and radio, too, but I imagine the potential circumstances were a little more limited: nightclubs, bedrooms, and shops, with perhaps a play as the background music in the cafe in Eastenders about as noteworthy as it got.
As a final treat, we were all handed a t-shirt as we left. Khaki-coloured, of course. ;)
A couple of hours later, as I went to get into bed, I found a card on my pillow. Item had made it for me to say that she'd missed me, and she'd drawn a picture of Billy.
Not a bad likeness at all, actually, so it's funny that it was done entirely from imagination.
They tweeted about it on Thursday, I had an idea for my design in the bath that night, and spent that evening, yesterday evening, and an hour or two today completing it.
It's been a useful learning process - firstly, to realise that I can turn a complete piece of work around so quickly. Second, I think this is the first time in my life that I have ever used Photoshop layers properly for print separation - a layer for each colour, neatly labelled. In the process I had to remember how to get a Pantone palette up in Photoshop (I say 'remember', I mean 'look up') and learn how to find the colour reference for each of said Pantone colours. Plus, I stuck to a really small number of colours (for me), because the winning design will be screenprinted, and the more colours, the more faff that'd be. Limited palette = more polished, even if the colours I chose seem to accidentally hark back to children's books of the fifties, printed on thick pulpy paper.
Ironically, for all its professionalism, I'm not sure I *like* it that much. I don't think I'd even buy it myself - an interesting question to ask about one's own artwork. If I'd had more time, I'd like to think I'd have come up with something wittier and perhaps less literal in its style.
BUT - it is done, submitted, and I have learned a lot. That'll do for me. Results are announced Monday week.
I am on a serious come-down, as I scrub tannin stains from the kitchen sink, mop up cat sick, urge Item to do her homework, and think back to Friday night's Nick Cave event. The very concept of the thing only bubbled up last weekend. Life didn't seem particularly dull before then, but I'm left feeling that I just don't have enough thrills on the horizon.
On the upside, I'll never forget it. In more than twenty years of living in Brighton, it feels like the ultimate in 'you really had to be there' moments. The clever thing about the contest was that it ensured that every member of the small crowd was there because they really wanted to be. For a pre-tour rehearsal, I imagine it's psychologically very positive to have a crowd of people who would be applauding even if you were standing there telling knock knock jokes, let alone playing them your brand new album.
There was a bit of a queue getting in, as they checked the tickets, and everyone queuing up on the desolate bit of Hove seafront, with a February chill wind whipping round sequinned mini-skirts and conspicuous cowboy hats, was smiling and happy. Afterwards, as we wandered out in a satisfied daze, there were even more smiles.
The crowd ended up being about 100 people, I reckon. A good few of them were, to my intense surprise, around the age of ten. I'd already told Item she couldn't be my plus-one: it had said in the competition details that it was strictly over-18s.
"Why? Is there swearing in the songs? Like Bloody Hell! Why did you do that?" - this was quite a good pastiche of a Bad Seeds song, I thought, and she's been singing it around the house ever since.
I took my friend Nat, who is also a fan, and she was SO pleased and excited that it really added to the atmosphere of the night. I've never been to any event in that particular venue before - it was at Hove's leisure centre, which is a Fifties brick building that has an old-school weight-lifting gym at one side, and a pool at the back where I used to take Item for baby swimming lessons. I'm sure the whole building was slated for demolition a few years back, and the pool got less and less fun to visit, as they stopped bothering to repair little things like falling tiles. Plus, it's always been a bit of an insult to the seafront - fancy building a squat little square building right in front of the sea like that, and not including any windows on the sea-facing side. I guess it's been given a reprieve in the light of budget cuts. Plans for the seafront always seem to be trumpeted and definite, and then reversed a few years later.
At the front of the leisure centre, I now discover, is a ballroom, a wood-panelled space about the size of your average church hall, with red curtains and circles of lamps hanging from the ceiling. I've seen Nick Cave live before, but in the city's biggest venue, the Brighton Centre, and I couldn't get closer than 20 feet away unless I wanted to really elbow through a moshpit. It was a good gig, but I left without any great feeling of connection - like many big events, you might as well have been watching on TV.
As we entered the ballroom, my overwhelming feeling was disbelief that we were going to see Cave playing live, and he'd be... well, just *there*, and even if we weren't in the front few rows, we'd be damn close. In fact, *everyone* was going to be in the first few rows. There weren't going to be any other rows.
I'm 44 years old, and this shouldn't be such a big deal, but - well, while I've left most obsessive fan behaviour behind, I've kind of stuck with my favourite musicians, and there really is only a handful of them. Nick Cave is the very favourite of the favourite. So, I spend a lot of time listening to his music, and a lot of time thinking about it - and him. Living in the same town helps with that, because someone's always just seen him around, or has an anecdote to share.
Almost everyone else in the audience was about our age, and I recognised a good many Brighton faces by sight: the woman who's always in the cafe at the Marina after the car boot sale; the Asian bloke who used to DJ when we were in our 20s (maybe he still does? I haven't been to a club in decades); the punk with two sticky-up wings of bright pink hair who writes for the Independent and always appears on those talking head programmes about music.
So, a nudge from Nat when the lights went down, and Nick walked on to the tiny elevated area of the stage, and the Bad Seeds walked on, and a cluster of girls stood looking awkward, squashed into a corner at the back, and the strings players sat behind the speaker stack, and Nick explained that this really was just a rehearsal and to bear with them, and 'if we were good', they'd play some old favourites, but first they were going to play the new album Push the Sky Away.
And that's what happened. Things went wrong a few times; Nick stopped things because he was 'really fucking off the note' or he'd forgotten the words. He told some small, self-mocking jokes just for Brightonians: "This one's called Jubilee Street. It's not about going to the library" (Jubilee street being the address of Brighton library); "This one's [Mermaids] about when I wrapped my car around a speed camera. Yeah, I'm a local hero, I know". And there was one [Wide Lovely Eyes] 'about Duke's Mound', the stretch of seafront just below Kemp Town, covered in bushes and winding paths, notoriously Brighton's gay cruising zone.
It's a lovely album, I think, on my hearings so far, and it's even better to be able to listen out to all the little Brighton references. [It's streaming here]
It seems we, the audience, were good, because after that, they went on to play some old stuff. He wasn't joking about 'old'. The set went:
Red Right Hand (1994)
O Children (2004)
Ship Song (1990)
Jack the Ripper (1992)
From Her to Eternity (1984)
Love Letter (2001)
Your Funeral My Trial (1986)
Mercy Seat (1988)
Stagger Lee (1996)
A good number of these were songs I was listening to when I was a student, or even a sixth former. To be absolutely honest, if this had been my most perfect night ever, this section would have been made up of the far more melodious and beautiful love songs that are the real reason I am properly passionate about Cave's music. Ship Song and Love Letter are the closest things on this list; I enjoy the more raucous, discordant stuff mainly from nostalgia and because you can have a stomping good dance to them, but with the softer songs, you can enjoy Cave's voice, the lyrics - sometimes incredibly emotional; often comedic - and the songs' quite beautiful melodies.
Backing vocals were provided by the clump of young girls, around the age of twelve. Some looked starstruck, some looked bemused, and others looked really, really tired. Although it was hard to discern who was yawning and who was singing out with a perfect O shaped mouth. I'm guessing the other kids milling about in the audience and on the balcony were their siblings, or possibly offspring of the various band members and strings players. As the concert began, Nick had looked awkwardly at the choir and made a quip about how they 'weren't his'. At the end of the first part, the album comprehensively delivered, he said the kids had to go home because it was 'past their bedtime'. The two eldest stayed. I guess you would, wouldn't you.
I wasn't sure about the young girls singing backing vocals. To be fair, I was standing really near the speakers, and getting mainly distorted bass - so I couldn't tell what they were adding to the sound. As a mum, I found myself wondering about the wisdom of exposing them to the hard-talking, profanity-littered, sexually-explicit world of the Bad Seeds. I don't know.
Meanwhile, I'm kind of in awe of the sexual persona that a 55-year-old man can carve out for himself at an age when many men are slowly descending into a world of comfy cardis and excessive nasal hair. Looking at Warren Ellis (a sprightly 48, but sporting such a huge beard that he could be mistaken for an itinerant) and Conway Savage (52), I couldn't help thinking that they've created a new way for middle-aged to elderly men to behave. Perhaps it's just a path that all the big rock stars have already paved - tramplike suits, unkempt hair, stringy beards, shirts undone to the waist, big cuffs and collars, sunglasses on indoors, big droopy porno moustaches. Quite Seventies. Maybe that's why it makes 40-somethings' hearts skip a beat: it's the sex-symbolism that was the background to our teens and our own burgeoning sexualities.
I have begun to think that more and more of Cave's work (in his music and in his literature) is about the disturbing fact of being an old man who still has a young man's sexual desires, and how people look on that with mistrust. Maybe that's just my reading of it, and something that helps me come to terms with what otherwise just comes across as misogynistic. Like, oh, maybe it's IRONIC and SELF-DEPRECATING. That's ok, I can enjoy it then.
Certainly that seems to be the theme behind the Death of Bunny Munroe, Cave's most recent novel; the new single Jubilee Street's video shows Ray Winstone in a mac, uneasily employing the services of a young, pert, attractive prostitute. The truth of the matter is that a video like that ends up showing a young, nude woman, no matter what its underlying message is. And that adds to the heap of images of young, naked women that already exist. I suppose, as a middle aged, becoming less conventionally-attractive-by-the-day woman, it would be refreshing to see that trend bucked a little more; to see some more adventurous exploration of what sexuality can mean. Looking around the audience confirmed my gut feeling, that I'm well within a Cave fan's average demographic, so - if he was concerned with maximising profits, rather than following his very clearly-defined muse - he'd be best advised not to alienate us all.
But it was a wonderful night in any case. It was over before I could quite believe I was so lucky. I took about a zillion photos and filled my memory card; they're mostly under-exposed, but at least they provide me with a lasting memory of the night.
But that was ok, upstairs revealed that Andrew is a huge Cave fan too, and all was well.
What I didn't reveal was that, between texts, I was assembling a fabric appliqued picture of the man himself. Because that would have seemed weird.
But you see, my ever-alert Twitter pals had told me about a competition that was right up my street. The local indie music shop had tweeted that they had ten pairs of tickets to give out - not to a gig, but to Nick Cave's final rehearsal, here in his home town, before he hits the road for the tour promoting his new album.*
Last week, I failed to buy tickets for the London dates of this tour, because, although I was right there when they went live, it turned out they were £50 each, there were none left close to the stage, and you had to buy a minimum of two. By the time I'd thought it through, they'd all gone anyway, and the decision was made for me.
So here was my chance! The challenge was to recreate a Cave/Grinderman/Bad Seeds album cover in whatever format you liked - plasticine, cake, paints, whatever. But it had to be in by Tuesday night.
In a hurry, Item, The Boy and I all looked at my record collection. I have to say that, in the main, they are a spectacularly uninspiring bunch of covers for this sort of thing. Item got her toys out and went part way towards a good stab at The Good Son.. but... I didn't feel it was going to win us the tickets.
In the end, I recreated one of my favourite Cave albums, The Boatman's Call, sewing it out of small scraps of fabric we had around the house - some of it fabric I've actually owned since the days when I first became aware of Cave's work, as it happens. It took an evening and a half; I pretty much screwed up the lettering through hurrying it, and then it was really hard to take a photo that did it justice.
So I sent it in, but with a bit of a heavy heart, convinced that the lettering and the poor photo would be my downfall. Yesterday, I had to work in London, leaving on the 8am train, and working solidly through the day with colleagues. At about 2:30pm I got an email. The title was 'You've won Nick Cave tickets!' and it started 'Once you've stopped jumping up and down...'
Whoop! There's incredibly tight security around it all. They wouldn't tell us the venue until I'd gone to pick up the tickets, and I had to show photo ID and then they wrote my name on them in big letters so that I couldn't sell them on - I'll also have to show ID at he door. Oddly enough, the venue is our local swimming pool and gym - apparently it's where Nick always rehearses. *Buys annual pass for pool* The record shop did not laugh when I asked if it was in the soft play area.
I have to say that, apart from being so delighted and excited about going to the gig tomorrow, the atmosphere on Twitter has been really fun, with lots of Brightonians all buzzing about the contest and talking about or showing their entries, with varying degrees of paranoia about whether people would copy them. It's felt a lot like the beginning of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, when there are still golden tickets to be found. And I've won one - hooray!
There are other winners here and here and here. They're all fab, and all totally different. what a great competition.
* An album which I have to say is leaving me slightly uneasy with its cover art and video content's implied misogyny, but let's gloss over that just for now, at least until I've consumed it properly.
It's only 20 mins - and worth it. There were three stand-out bits for me, but they are spoilers.
[Spoiler (click to open)]Spoilers:
One is the anecdote that the whole podcast is based on - that the only thing that got Blanc out of a coma after a dreadful car crash was the phrase 'What's up, Bugs?' (not 'Doc', sadly, but it's still a good story).
Another is that Blanc voiced Barney Rubble in the first 50 (if I heard correctly) episodes of the Flintstones *from his hospital bed*.
And the last is what Blanc has on his gravestone: That's All, Folks".
These days, I always seem to be on the lookout for people who have or had enviable careers. Voicing cartoons must be one of the ultimate examples of 'you can't learn it at school', yet what an immensely satisfying job.
The Boy made the point that these characters are all based on high-profile celebrities/politicians of the time. These days, hardly anyone remembers them, but most of us know their cartoon versions.
On New Year's Day, we spent the evening with Nice Italian exColleague and her family. They provided drinks and cooked a main course - lasagne - and we brought side dishes and a pudding. I made smoked aubergine salad and some green beans with a tahini and lemon dressing. TBH they were both ok but I don't remember really tasting them. I don't think I'd drunk all that much! Item ate a whole bowl of the lentil lasagne, which was a good show for her, as she hasn't had it before.
Originally, we were invited to stay until midnight, but when I apologetically said I didn't think we'd last that long, NIeC was relieved and said they neither, and we'd celebrate some timezone where New Year came a couple of hours earlier. We stayed til 10 pm, and although we'd originally planned to take a taxi, were transported zippily there by Brighton buses both ways, despite our fears that they might be rowdy and crowded that night.
Item was good, though quite clearly over-excited - NIeC cleverly channelled all the girls' pent-up energy into some dance game on the Wii.
Blonde Item in a Rapunzel wig
NIeC's elder daughter had prepared a pub quiz, researched on the internet. It was pretty good - just the right level of difficulty, which is quite hard to pitch, I reckon. It was a lovely night and I really enjoyed it. It may have been the first time that we took Item out late and she didn't have an overtired meltdown...
On the 1st, it was the birthday of our friend who moved back from Europe last year. Stinker of a date for a birthday! They had a party from mid-afternoon, and it was quite odd to go along and see my old cronies from 20 years ago, all now with kids and partners but otherwise looking exactly the same, as far as I could tell. Item bonded with the daughter of one of The Boy's old mates, and I spent quite a bit of time with the pet cat who was shut in the bedroom so he didn't escape. He's a Maine Coon - and enormous, despite only being 5 months old. He's about three times as big as Sushi.
Turning home, we popped into see Item's best friend and her family (who have also become our good friends) and had a quick glass of port and a chat.
Item *did* then have a massive meltdown on the way home, unfortunately, even running away from us. We couldn't see her for a good few minutes in the dark and it was quite scary, and then we found her and took her home and she gave us all a hard time for a couple of hours after that, too. SIGH. It was all triggered when I wouldn't buy her a comic on the way home, which just seems... really spoilt.
On the 2nd, I took Item to the Toy Museum - we haven't been before despite a few near-misses in the past. I'm not sure why; it's pretty good, with a massive train layout and some really interesting historic toys, though it is quite small (and was £8 for the pair of us), so I doubt we'll go back for a while.
Then, we were invited, with The Boy, to lunch with Item's friend Silas, his brother Zooey, and his two mums - plus another dad who had dropped by. The latter told a story about how someone had visited his house and asked to be seated elsewhere as 'looking at all his clutter was giving her a headache'! Poor Silas had the norovirus PLUS ear infection and spent Xmas day in hospital.
Theirs is that house that is pretty much our dream abode, and the mum both work in TV which, well, you know. If I'd just sorted myself out at an early age. However, envy swept to one side, they are nice, AND they have offered to store some of our stuff in their gargantuan loft when we put this place on the market.
I tried going for another run again last week, after more than a week's rest since pulling my calf muscle, and my leg *immediately* gave out again. On Wednesday, after lunch, we and the boys went to the swimming pool and I got in one more long swim - 57 lengths of the 100m pool, which was what I could fit in during the length of time The Boy was willing to corall Item/Item was willing to be in fairly cold water.
On the 3rd, Item had a play date with her Icelandic schoolmate, who has just moved to Hartington Road - the very first street I lived in when I moved to Brighton after university, fact fans. MORE house envy! They have a massive red brick gothic-ish airy house that is just so beautiful, and again exactly what we'd desire, if we could stretch to it.
(Side note - while I was at The Boy's, his dad totally misinterpreted something I said, and thought there was a possibility that we might move to Sheffield. No offence, Sheffield, but not going to happen. But they'd've loved that, as it's within about 45 minutes drive of them. Then he started showing me houses we could easily afford there. Which, I know.)
After I picked Item up from that playdate, we bussed to town and had lunch with Seasoned Mother and her two kids, but by that time I was starting to come down with this stupid illness, which seems now to have turned into a nose-running-constantly cold + cough, which is reassuringly familiar, but does not really explain the magnitude of my symptoms on Thursday night. I have graduated from the ibuprofen but still taking echinachea.
And on Friday, it was Item's birthday, which we've covered. Today she has her pal Dexy over. So we are up to date. On Monday it is an INSET day, but The Boy and I are both working, so we're sharing the cost of a childminder with Isadora's parents, for the first time. Let's see how that goes. (I have a feeling that The Boy's salary plus bus fare must about equal the cost of the childminder).