Thursday 22 June 2023

Even monkeys fall out of trees

If you're a fan of Radio 4's long running science/comedy show The Infinite Monkey Cage you'll know that Robin Ince and Professor Brian Cox take it upon themselves each week to dismantle the universe one piece at a time, atom by atom, molecule by molecule; sometimes scientifically, sometimes not so, and, in true Reithian style, educate inform and entertain both scientists and non-scientists alike. It's great radio presented by two passionate people; I love passionate people.
On Tuesday night Ince was flying solo: performing an intimate bookshop* gig where he waxed lyrical for  an hour or so about not just his books but also many, many others he's fallen in love with over the years: everything from Cold Fish Soup (Adam Farrer's  beautifully written memoir about living in a down at heel East Yorkshire town - which was also, coincidentally, a recent read in our local book club) going all the way back to W.N.P. Barbellion's Journal of a Disappointed Man published in 1919. I've already put out my feelers out to snag myself a copy - hopefully a 'blue Penguin', pictured below.

Like Bob Dylan, Robin has been on tour since, I don't know, forever. If you haven't seen him yet then it can only be a matter of time till he pops up in a town near you**. And when he does, you really should go and see him. He's a lovely bloke. And very funny. Also, it transpires, he loves my favourite brewery building. Yes, that one. (He'd seen it on the way to the gig and was then confronted by a brace of my framed photographs of it hanging in the shop.)  

* Not just any old bookshop. Our local bookshop; a huge thank you to Tim for organising this and may other readings and book signings at the best bookshop in Nottingham.

** His Bibliomaniac book is a tale of his UK journey made entirely on public transport where he pulled in north of 100 bookshops)

Saturday 17 June 2023

Move your finger, drop something in my bowl

Bessie Smith made 160 recordings in her short-lived, yet tumultuous, singing career; many of them before the great American depression of the 1930s. Each and every one a nailed on blues classic. Her jazzy, bluesy stylings straddled subject matter most recording artists of the time would politely backheel: sex and sexuality, addiction, poverty & oppression were all grist to her mill and delighted her faithful followers. She lived life at a million miles an hour and crammed more into her 43 years on this planet than most mere mortals who may live twice as long. (The 2015 biopic
Bessie tells the story of her amazing life* - Queen Latifah playing the Empress of the Blues.) 

Bessie Smith - Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl(1931)

Bessie Smith (1894-1937)

* Not just her life, even her death reads like something out of a pulp fiction pot boiler. 

Saturday 10 June 2023

One lump or two?

Back in January 2022 some bright spark at the BBC began cajoling bands and artists into their Maida Vale studios to perform a couple of their own songs + a hand-picked cover and, with the help of the BBC Concert Orchestra, create more classical, and generally less frenetic, versions than the originals Radio 2 listeners are used to hearing. Playing the Piano Room has now become something of a badge of honour for yer Simply Reds and yer Pinks and anyone else who fits their daytime demographic. I blame Ken Bruce. 

With the station's flagship mid-morning show now anchored by Vernon Kay, the mercurial northerner invited Def Leppard in a couple of weeks ago to wheel the grand piano out and look earnestly down the lens of the BBC's cameras and bring some gravitas to a tune more usually heard in lap dancing clubs*

Def Leppard (feat. Emm Gryner) - Pour Some Sugar on Me (2023)

* Or so I've been reliably informed.

Tuesday 6 June 2023


Standing in a farmer's field on a sunny Sunday morning I can see in the distance, picked out in white against a vivid blue sky, the iconic cooling towers of a nearby power station; they must be two or three miles away. I know I'm relatively close to the busy M1 motorway and directly beneath the flight path of East Midlands Airport, but I can't hear a sound; save for a couple of noisy magpies chewing the fat. And then hooves on tarmac as a pony and trap canters by, keeping tight to the edge of the road, almost hugging the hedgerow. Where are they headed? The next village along, probably. And for that brief moment I'm lost in time. I've only come to take some photographs and get some sun on my back.
 I think I'll go back next Sunday; take a flask and some sandwiches & stay a while longer.

Thursday 1 June 2023

Rapture in the mosaic sky

I love these monthly bouts of call and response: I say something like ''I'm mixing it up for June's photo challenge. Literally. I'm looking for mosaic patterns, patchworks, montages, tessellations; you get the picture(s). So if you've just glued your priceless Ming vase back together again, or you see someone wearing Elmer the Elephant socks or you can paint  in the style of Mondrian - you know what to do.'' And you come back with...

Well, The Swede was first to respond. ''I should stress that I don't make a habit of taking photos in public toilets, but this loo, in an art gallery I visited during Blog Con22 in Edinburgh, was colourfully memorable.'' You're not wrong, TS.   

Rol dropped in my inbox next. He's gone with the great outdoors again and has come up with something a bit special: ''Hello John, Struggled a bit with this one... almost sent you a picture of a peacock. But then I found this which seemed more appropriate. An enormous stone cairn built on the hill above Meltham, where I used to live. I have some pretty weird photos from my time in Meltham. Bunch of weirdoes. No idea who built this, but it must have taken them ages; I suspect it didn't last long, once the local louts saw it. Take care, Rol.''

C didn't take long to get out of the blocks. Here's her twofer. ''Hi John, I so desperately wanted to find a fab caterpillar or garden spider in the garden to photograph for this month's theme but it's a little too early. Hope these will do instead. C x'' They will indeed, C. I love your beebox and cactus (thank you for tagging the photos btw!) 

Alyson, next. ''Hi John – Here is my picture for June. I remembered that there is a mosaic floor at the entrance to our local Station Hotel (every town has one and yes it’s at the Railway Station). There is a bilingual mat there too. In Gaelic we greet visitors with the words, Ceud Mile FĂ ilte, which means A Hundred Thousand Welcomes. That’s a lot of welcomes – you must come and visit some day!'' And I will, Alyson. Sooner rather than later, I hope.

It's not often my dad appears on these pages. But when he does then it's usually me marking a solemn occasion; though not always, sometimes he just sends me texts that catch me unawares. ''Finally finished this micro puzzle'' his latest WhatsApp said - the 1000 piece jigsaw with tiny pieces I gave him for his birthday really fits this month's challenge. It must also have been a bugger to do.

My friend Riggsby in San Diego has been energised since he heard about my photo challenges. Judging by my inbox he probably takes more photos than me. Thank you so much for these Richard. '''Pearl of the Pacific' by James Hubbell - a local artist who is now an impressive 91 years of age.''

''I also noticed some mosaics at the entrance of the freeway going North from our house. They're a bit ordinary though.'' Ordinary? Far from it!

Adam has really come up trumps this month: ''Hi John, two sets of tiles for you. The first one is from a wall in Manchester city centre behind Shudehill tram stop. If the rest of the area is anything to go by tis wall may not survive much longer. Gentrification, like rust, never sleeps.''

''The second one is a flight of stairs with with a white stripe of tiles down the centre - visual markers to help us keep left.'' 

Thank you, Adam. It falls to me to wrap things up. But before I do, a huge  thank you again to everyone who sent me stuff this month. I can't thank you enough.
So, I give you an elephant in a shop window, a sunflower and rather jazzy house number. Until next time.

(I'll post July's theme in the comments section below sometime next week...)