Custard stops

The Custard Stops at Hatfield by Kenny Everett
The Custard Stops at Hatfield by Kenny Everett

I had a random memory yesterday. Quite often as a kid my dad would take me on long walks around central London on Sunday afternoons. Invariably my mum would stay at home and do the housework (partly because she preferred to and partly, she later told me, because she thought it was a good opportunity for father/son bonding). On one of these occasions my dad and I were at Waterloo station on the way home and popped into WH Smith, one of my favourite shops, as you could get both books and stationery there, and Kenny Everett‘s new memoir The Custard Stops at Hatfield was on display. Everyone loved Kenny back then, he was massively popular, and I thought it was a hilarious title, although I never actually read it and could only guess at why the “custard” ended at an unremarkable new town 20 miles north of London. Later we got home. “We saw The Custard Stops at Hatfield!” I chirruped to my mum in the way that children do, a) with no sense of priority (we might have spent the day at the Tower of London or the Science Museum BUT I SAW A FUNNY BOOK) and b) fully expecting the targeted grown-up to be completely familiar with the topic at hand. She knew of Everett of course but hadn’t heard of the book. Puzzled, she repeated the sentence back, thinking I’d said that my dad and I had been through Hatfield and saw “custard stops”. What could these have been? Squidgy yellow train stations? Surreal art installations? Some unique local phenomena of flora or fauna? Why, indeed, were we even in, or passing through, Hatfield? Where even WAS Hatfield? None of us was sure but it seemed rather a long way from East Molesey. Finally my dad laughed and explained “It’s a book.” Yet, the questions remain 35 years later. I suppose I’ll just have to finally go and read the thing to find out (dirty job etc), but in the meantime, for all I know Everett did mean “stops” as in the noun, and at very least the title is a kind of crash blossom. But every so often I think of this incident and my mum’s expression trying to fathom what I was talking about, and the kid in me still hopes there are things called custard stops, whatever they may be, in small towns outside London.

RIP Cheggers

Keith Chegwin brightened the dull Saturday mornings of my youth, of which there were many in the early 80s. I often spent Saturday morning alone in the flat above the shop my parents ran, with the gas fire up full, eating jam tarts and watching Swap-Shop on our rented TV. I sometimes felt alone, but the live format of the show and Cheggers’s’s indefatigable, almost unfeasible chirpiness helped things along. It was sad that he struggled with alcoholism later in life, but many people do, and I understand he recovered. I was jealous when he married Maggie Philbin. He always seemed to retain his sense of humour regardless of his situation. He was way cheesy but nobody cared. Unlike many others, I don’t even resent his nude game show episode, though I can’t say I’ve ever made a point of watching it. Some Tory MP stood up in the Commons and described the show as the most disgusting thing on TV. Why, because it had some naked people and one of them was a middle-aged, slightly overweight bloke? Good for him, if you ask me. A few years ago he was thrown in Twitter prison by the humorless for supposedly plagiarising jokes. He tweeted a gag once and I replied, “I refuse to laugh at that unless it’s original.” He sent me a direct message simply saying “LOL”.

A hairy encounter

In my way home from Christmas shoppping, I stopped to look in the window of a new local barber shop at an advert for a “man mask”, featuring a photo of a bearded 20-something guy having a mud-pack. I’d barely begun attempting to process this latest example of hipster insanity when a bloke of about the same age in some sort of stylised apron get-up darted out of the shop and accosted me with the most practised sales spiel I’ve heard in a long time. “Walk in anytime, no appointment needed” wasn’t necessarily revolutionary, but hey, we need all the reassurance we can get these days. More tantalising was the promise of a loyalty card and hot or cold drinks while you wait, which just makes absolute sense to me. Upon my request, he claimed that not only do they do styles, but “you give us a photo of the haircut, we put your face into it”. I think he probably meant this metaphorically, but I’m so old and out of touch that what do I know? Photoshop does incredible things these days, I’m told, including turning a frown into a smile (no joke actually), so who am I to say they can’t just cut and paste Morrissey’s Smiths-era quiff onto my own real-life fizzog? As he pressed a £5 off voucher for a £24 haircut into my still-querulous palm, I glanced up and even his colleague was stifling a titter at the guy’s brazenness. But, you gotta hand it to him. I normally pay about £12 for a haircut at the place I’ve been going to since (excepting my Midlands hiatus) 1988, but I fear I may have to try these guys if only for the sheer enthusiasm, sadly lacking at my current establishment: it’s as much as you can do to get them to grunt a “sorry” as they relieve you of your eyebrows, or even a “thank you” when, regardless, you tip them, in true British fashion. So, will it be a scissorial sensation or a follicular folly? I shall investigate and report back.

Sam Shepard and Dylan’s Brownsville Girl

Sam Shepard, who died the other day, was best known for being one of America’s great playwrights, and not a half bad film actor. To be fair the only work of his I’m really familiar with (judging from his obituary, I have a hell of a lot of catching up to do) is his screenplay for the great Wim Wenders movie Paris, Texas – a beautifully understated short screen story about identity, separation, fathers and sons, and America. I first saw it back in the 80s late at night on Channel 4, not long after it came out, and as a young guitarist was mostly attracted by Ry Cooder’s evocative, sparse score. Anyway, when I saw he’d died, the only other thing I knew for sure about Sam Shepard was that he collaborated with Bob Dylan (another musical hero of mine) a couple of times. The first was on Dylan’s legendary Rolling Thunder Revue tour of 1975-76, for which he had a credit on the ensuing surreal movie Renaldo and Clara and about which he wrote The Rolling Thunder Logbook, which I used to have but stupidly gave away in one of my house moves. The second collaboration was when they wrote a fantastic song together, the 11-minute 1986 epic Brownsville Girl, and this – to finally get to the point – is what first came into my mind when I heard about Shepard’s passing. The song is up there with any of Dylan’s best – it’s a weird, fragmented short story, it’s funny, heartbreaking and full of imagery. It’s supposedly about a Gregory Peck western (but is a tad more meta than that – “I still remember the day you came to me on a painted desert … I can’t remember why I was in that film or which part I was supposed to play”), and listening to it is like watching a film, or more specifically like sitting up late one night when you’re alone and a movie you’ve never heard of comes on Channel 4 and you’re transported by it to places you hadn’t expected. (I don’t even know if that happens anymore incidentally, what with the general decline in quality of network TV and films, and the culture now of proactively subscribing to channels and shows rather than idly surfing and stumbling across things.) If you’ve never heard it, whatever you think of Dylan or westerns, have a listen below. His delivery and the arrangement – very 80s in style, with lots of reverb, big sax breaks and ethereal backing singers, who break character to make knowing interventions in the main lyric – are an essential part of what makes the song great, but if you really can’t stand Dylan’s voice or feel 11 minutes is too long then you can get a life and read another blog read the lyrics for a feel of the story. (Oddly, Dylan’s own site that I link to there doesn’t credit Shepard.) Or indeed you can read along to the lyrics while you listen to the song. Dylan half-speaks the words, so they are pretty clear, but when I first heard it in the late 80s there was no internet or published version of the lyrics, so I had to stop-start the tape of the song that a friend gave me and transcribe it as best I could; being British, I had no idea what a “swap meet” was so for years I thought it was “swamp meet”. By the way, if it turns out you love the song, I probably wouldn’t recommend buying the whole original album Knocked Out Loaded, as it was (in keeping with Dylan’s legendary inconsistency) not one of his best. But then maybe why not? It’s Dylan. Enjoy, and RIP Sam.

Talking about mental health

Readers of my blog will know I’ve not exactly ever been a fan of Tony Blair’s spin doctor, but when it comes to mental health we’re all in the same boat, dealing with it. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually blogged about mental health, so for some readers I’m coming out here as a lifelong sufferer of anxiety. I deal with it (or don’t) in various ways but one way in the past year or so has been through therapy, first CBT on the NHS and then private psychotherapy. I may post more about some of that sometime but this clip I saw on Twitter this morning moved me very much and I wanted to take a break from my usual rather sarcastic, cynical style to share this widely. This short conversation between Alastair Campbell and his partner Fiona Millar highlights not only (and quite scarily) how it’s possible to be in some cases very high-functioning while still having a serious problem, but also how partners of people with mental health issues can blame themselves and/or react inappropriately because they don’t know how to deal with it. This can cause many problems in relationships – I think I’ve probably messed up at least two because of it. I tend to shut down completely when I have anxiety, and if you factor into that the stigma around MH issues the problem can just internalise endlessly, making talking counterintuitive – yet talking is often exactly what’s needed. So even if you don’t have these problems yourself but are in a relationship with someone who does, or think you may be, give this a watch.

The Brexit of You and Me – a poem

I was the 48 per cent
to your 52
You voted to leave me
I, to remain with you

I thought the deal we had
was great, the perfect match
But you wanted to renegotiate,
start again, from scratch

I showed you scientific evidence
that my heart would break
You said ‘We’ve had enough of experts
It’ll be just a little ache’

I asked you why you did it
You looked at me quite shifty
You said ‘You were too high-maintenance
You triggered my Article 50’

All I wanted from our love
was the deepest unity
You say that all you want from life
is to know you’re free

I asked the Leader of the Opposition
to validate my pride
I thought he would defend me
but he took your side

Now I parade outside your house
a protest march of one
with my tatty placard calling for
a second referendum

I know I’ve lost, the tide has turned
I’m doing all I can
But I lost the vote, then I lost you
I am yesterday’s man

It was all my fault, my campaign was poor
I took your vote for granted
I never thought you’d really put me
on the single market

I should probably just be grateful
for being part of you this long
Nothing lasts forever
Guess I’ll be moving on.

 

(c) Thoughtcat 2017

Disclaimer: Any resemblance to any real break-up is entirely coincidental. Happy Valentine’s Day.

The real Prime Minister’s Questions

THE SPEAKER: Order, order. Jeremy Corbyn.

A LABOUR FRONTBENCHER: Hooray!

JEREMY CORBYN: Will the Prime Minister please take this question about the dire state of something that really matters to ordinary people and completely ignore it in favour of making an embarrassing joke that makes her look nastier than Cruella de Vil and causes the members opposite to laugh hysterically and press their tongues firmly against her buttocks in a transparent display of ingratiation?

THERESA MAY: My Right Honorable Friend has a beard! Look at it! It’s like this really silly beard! Just like Fidel Castro, that other well-known communist!

TORY MEMBERS: [collapse in hysterics]

JEREMY CORBYN: Will the Prime Minister confirm that Brexit does, in fact, mean Fuxit?

THERESA MAY: My friend opposite has a beard! [winks knowingly at the clean-shaven David Davis]

JEREMY CORBYN: Will the Prime Minister confirm that this country is turning into a right shithole under the Conservative government?

THE SPEAKER: Ordure, ordure.

THERESA MAY: My Right Honorable Friend can run down this magnificent country of ours as much as he likes, but he has – wait for it – a fucking beard!

TORY MEMBERS: [die laughing]

JEREMY CORBYN: Has the Prime Minister seen “I, Daniel Blake”?

THERESA MAY: No, does he have a beard?

TORY MEMBERS: [start bombing the food banks]

JEREMY CORBYN: Will the Prime Minister stop talking about my beard please and answer my questions?

THERESA MAY: [puts on Jeremy Corbyn Fake Beard bought earlier from Poundland]

TORY MEMBERS: [all put on fake Corbyn beards and laugh themselves sick]

JEREMY CORBYN: What does it take to have any questions actually answered or any legitimate concerns taken seriously around here?

THERESA MAY: [lighting Cuban cigar off £50 note] Oh fucking cheer up you beardy twat.

TORY MEMBERS: [orgasm]

LABOUR FRONTBENCHER: Nice one, Jezza.

LABOUR BACKBENCHERS: Corbyn out!

MSM PAPERS: Corbyn is a beardy twat – it’s official!

Something nice on Twitter

For those of you who think of Twitter as a seething mass of hate and misery (which to be fair it mostly is), here’s a gem of an exception. Antique typewriter enthusiast goes on holiday to Barcelona and takes a day trip out to Figueras to see the Salvador Dali museum (been there! wonderful building and a magical location). Instead though he takes a detour and stumbles on an obscure museum he’s never heard of which is full of… antique typewriters. He’s taken loads of photos of these beautiful and sometimes bizarre machines. The whole thread starts here – you don’t have to be on Twitter to read it. The best way of reading through it is to click the links saying “Show more” and ignore the links saying “View other replies”. I only say this because it opens up dozens more comments and makes the story impossible to follow, not because the comments aren’t lovely, because they are. The whole thing is a bit of an oasis amid all the political horror flying about at the moment and the world needs more of it. A sample from the thread follows.

Things that are well-Brexit – 1, 2, 3

As a Remain campaigner in the EU Referendum I’ve been appalled at the Leave campaign. Remain hasn’t exactly done itself proud either, with questionable, daily warnings from Cameron and Osborne about the economic terrors that’ll befall us if we quit the EU, but Leave has basically sounded like a stuck record of an Enoch Powell speech. It’s been a depressing few weeks of listening to these people say we need to “reclaim our sovereignty” and “get our country back”, as if we’ve been living under some sort of occupation these past 40 years. I want us to remain in the EU because I support the free movement of people, think free trade within the largest economic bloc in the world is a good idea, like the fact that women are entitled to maternity leave and because I don’t want to be left stranded on a horrible, nasty, right-wing little island run by Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. There is lots of fear propaganda around but the evidence and reasoning for remaining from people like Professor Michael Dougan, Lisa Maxwell and Ben Goldacre is hugely compelling.

On Tuesday evening a hashtag game took over Twitter, #ThingsThatAreWellBrexit. “Well” is working-class slang and some of the tweets were a tad snobbish, but most were pointing out the hypocrisy and a misplaced desire to return to some sort of 1950s/1970s/prehistoric version of the UK which applies just as much to the middle classes. This litany of cliches and the rhythm of the hashtag inspired me to gather a few together along with some of my own into a lyric inspired by Ian Dury (Reasons to be Cheerful for form and “character” songs like Billericay Dickie for content) – although I guess it’s got a bit of John Cooper-Clarke in there as well. I then recited and uploaded it to YouTube, with annotations. (I did in fact originally want to record it as a parody song, but I lack the right musical equipment and there was no sign on YouTube of one of those free backing tracks you sometimes find… I’d be up for it if anyone can assist with either.) Here’s the result, with the full poem text below, with selected bits linked.

Things that are well-Brexit, one, two, three

Black cab drivers, Marks & Sparks clothes
Mild cheddar, slacks, Greggs and Waitrose
We’re being taken over, can’t take any more
Immigrants to blame for making me poor

Black and White Minstrels, living in Spain
No-one I know’s going to vote Remain
Never complaining, queuing in the rain
Being sent to Coventry on a French train

Brexit, we’ve got to, it’d be rude not to
What the hell’s Europe ever done for me?
The miners, the shipyards, the steelworks, the dockyards,
It’s the Tories EU wot done for our industry

Pound shop wages for all but the bankers
Taking back control of my hard-earned dole
Bongo-Bongo, bingo hall, hashtag “banter”
Eating egg and chips on the Costa del Sol

Blackpool rock, Union Jack socks
Nandos extra hot which you can’t eat
Daily Mail howlers, mustard-coloured trousers
Benny Hill chasing ladies down the street

Elf and safety spoilsports, regulated fishing ports
Red tape nightmare and Project Fear
MPs on the fiddle, nipping down to Lidl
Cos the very British Sainsbury’s is just too dear

Living in the fifties, being rather thrifty
Three hundred and fifty million a week
Straighten our bananas, microchip our Weimaraners
Bloody Brussels bean-counters are a bloody cheek

Now I’m no racist, I’m a royalist, a loyalist
We’re giving away all of our sovereignty
Cubes of Double Gloucester, cheering Diego Costa
in a Made in China Chelsea shirt, sipping lukewarm tea

Eurocrat, bureaucrat, aristocrat, fat-cat
I aint no migrant, I’m a proud ex-pat
Men-only golf clubs, women in their place
Gays are all right as long as they don’t shove it in my face

School of Hard Knocks, University of Life
Good old Boris Johnson will protect our rights
House of Lords aristocracy, casual hypocrisy
Greeks don’t know the meaning of democracy

Pooftas, Chinkys, Pakis, Page 3
It’s my right to be non-PC
Hammersmith Palais, cheeky trip to Calais
What’s the point in voting for your M.E.P.

Tattoo “Keep Calm” on your arm, turn on the English charm
Bring back the birch, never did me any harm
Hard-hats for acrobats, can’t fly your England flags
Coming back from Benidorm with duty-free fags

God save our German queen, ordering the duck terrine
Reclaim our marmalade back from Seville
Punch and Judy Finnegan, never seen an immigrant
but we’re being overrun and it’s making me ill

Please vote Remain on 23rd June…

(c) Thoughtcat 2016

A rare paer

A Prickly Paer by Luciana Martinez de la Rosa (1981)
A Prickly Paer by Luciana Martinez de la Rosa (1981)

I recently unearthed a box of old postcards, some of which I’ve had for 30 years. These aren’t postcards sent to me, but rather cards I’d bought, sometimes with the intention of sending short messages to friends (in the days before email), sometimes with the intention of putting them up on my kitchen wall. I lived in a one-bedroom flat in London for about 12 years and in that time covered my kitchen with cards. Anyway, that’s another story.

When I was about 15 I lived in Hampton Court, in a road across the Thames from the palace largely populated by antique shops. It was pretty dull and conservative but at some point a shop opened which upped the cultural profile of the street by several notches. Mainly it was a video rental shop but it also sold art postcards, posters and records. These days of course you can find Van Goghs and Monets on birthday cards in Sainsbury’s, but this was in the late 1980s and I’d rarely seen a shop which sold small versions of classic or arresting images that you could buy for a few pence and take home. The proprietor and I became good friends. He had revolving stands of mid-to-late 20th century black & white photo cards, while on the shop counter was a box of fairly random colour postcards. I was leafing through this one day and uncovered the card shown here. This is a painting by Luciana Martinez de la Rosa called “A Prickly Paer”. That spelling “paer” is as printed on the card and I still don’t know if it’s a misspelling of “pear” or if that’s how she spelt it, for some subversive reason. I was struck by the painting, probably – since I was a 15-year-old boy at the time – for predictable reasons, but beyond its obvious eroticism I was fascinated by it, by the relaxed and unashamed attitude of the subject, and the precision of the style and the colours. I’d never heard of the painter, and in those pre-internet days it was near-impossible to find out anything about artist(e)s who were anything less than massively famous. The image stuck in my imagination long after I forgot the name of the painter and lost the card.

Recently the image came back to me for no obvious reason and being unable to find the card on a cursory look in my flat I searched the web for “A Prickly Paer”. I was surprised to find no results – zero. All I got was a prompt for the “correct” spelling and endless images of cacti. Had I just imagined it? I tried spelling it “pear” instead, but still nothing. Finally I gave in and pulled down boxes from cupboards to see if I still had the original card. After hours of leafing through all sorts of mementos I was thrilled to finally turn up the card. My 30-year-old memory of the title (mis)spelling was correct. I have to admit that what I found just as fascinating as the image itself was the fact that it didn’t seem to exist on the internet: we live now in a time, I think, when it’s felt that our entire culture and history have already been uploaded to a server somewhere, so when something we’re sure exists doesn’t exist online it (ironically) has an unreal quality to it.

Anyway, reminded now of the painter’s name, I searched for her instead. Luciana Martinez de la Rosa was English, born in the New Forest in 1948, and was an artist and “personality” active on the punk scene, known mainly for a “cameo” role in Derek Jarman’s 1977 classic Jubilee (which I knew vaguely from being a one-time huge fan of Adam Ant, who also had a small role in the film). Apart from a very brief entry on the IMDb, the only site I can find with any details about her or her life is a brilliantly old-school site celebrating punk and New Wave music and art in the 70s and 80s called The Blitz Kids. There’s no information on there about the painting in particular, although the original can be seen hanging on the wall of de la Rosa’s home in this slightly NSFW photo. My postcard dates the painting to 1981 and the angular, stark visual pop culture of the eighties seems very clear. Her other work on that website shows a similar style and fondness for nudity both in her work and her life. There feels to me something of the Frida Kahlo about her and some of her imagery. While (or possibly because) I’m about as straight-laced as they come, I would love to have met de la Rosa, who seems to have been something of a character, an English eccentric who spent her life clubbing, painting and generally hanging out with artists and pop stars. Sadly this won’t be possible though, as she very sadly died of meningitis in 1995, as sensitively recorded in this tribute by fellow artist Duggie Fields.

As for the painting’s subject, I admire her confidence, from her relaxed stance, facial expression, direct eye contact, and frankly non-demure pubic hair. I’ve always found it odd that she kept her earrings in despite being naked; I’m not sure if they make her look more naked, or less. There is a prickliness to it, obviously, representative I think of the painter’s outre life and personality. I especially like the shadows of her fingers on her raised hand.

In posting this piece I am aware of two things – one, that a couple of readers will probably think “dirty old sod” (well, sod them) and two, that it appears I am making the image available for the first time on the web. It’s not often you get to do such a thing, and I think it’s deserved, because I think the painting is good and the image memorable and bold. I don’t do this lightly, though, as I can’t help feeling that both de la Rosa and I have lost something as a result of the image now passing from the obscurity of a treasured postcard in a box in someone’s room (and from the imagination of a sensitive 15-year-old) into the immeasurable, impersonal, crude mass of images on the internet. But maybe, given her non-conformist and mischievous nature, de la Rosa might like the idea that people searching for a particular kind of cactus might now also get something they hadn’t quite bargained for in their search results.