Archives for the month of: October, 2011

It has to be the Bratwurst. It was always going to be the Bratwurst, but I felt I ought to have a look at the other stalls anyway. I knew I’d come back to the German Deli: Sausages, Mustards, Pickles…

Emerging from under London Bridge Station’s canopy, I’m staggered by the massive, sleek glass pyramid that is The Shard: a gigantic (inverted) V-sign of a gesture to London’s lesser buildings. Still topped by a crane, but untopped itself, it will house the rich – ‘exclusive apartments’; companies – ‘inspirational’; visitors – ‘5-Star Shangri-La: opulent and exclusive’. Or it may stand, like Centre Point, empty. Cynical, me?

Down the steps by Southwark Cathedral, into the wonderful food smells and the human crush of Borough Market. Under the girders are the stalls, doing a brisk trade: Bermondsey Bangers with their beef, venison, and ‘Ultra Beef’ burgers; the oyster stall; a Middle Eastern stall heaped with aubergine and pumpkin kibeh, spinach parcels, halloumi cheese; a long trestle table piled with loaves of all kinds. There’s a huge stack of whirled meringues next to a cascade of those lovely Portuguese custard tarts – people are snapping away and buying food at the same time – it’s a total feast for the senses. This is not your average market – it’s a very designed market, with cool graphics on the walls and superstructure: visitors’ fulsome quotes, apparently – in their corporate typestyle. It’s been there since 1014 (AD that is), they reckon, though I imagine the branding was more homespun then.

You do, actually, want to eat all the food on display, and take away anything in a bottle, jar, or can. In the end – I knew it – I go back to get the Bratwurst. And sauerkraut.

Saturday – I have one sodden ball of tissue to staunch the tears rolling down my cheeks and I’m making a spectacle of myself. Well – I would be, if all those around me weren’t riveted by the spectacle in front of me. Mimi, hiding behind a fire-escape, overhears the real reason she has been abandoned by Rodolfo. I’m in the second row at Glyndebourne, watching La Bohème, treated by a friend. I finally get the appeal of opera; I’ve seen a few over the years, but none has had this effect. A grubby, freezing kitchen in a squalid student flat reminds me of life in the early 1970s. But it’s not that memory that moves me: the pathos of the situation, the characterisation, the huge swelling music a few feet away, the exquisite soaring voices  – all combine in a wave of emotion. Heightened, it has to be said, by the wine… sniff, dab.

Monday 9am – I’m signed in by a young blonde woman, her breasts dusted with glitter (9am!) Not a dodgy club – it’s the Pavilion Theatre in Brighton. ‘Aaah’ she says (as in ‘Bless!’) – we’re Over-60s. Actually we’re extras in auditions for a Rehearsal Director for the new Three Score dance project. (Why am I doing this?). The first candidate, Jason, takes us through some sequences: a discus-throwing swing, skips, circling arms; then lift toes, down, lift, down, lift foot, down, bend other leg, straighten other… the 60-year mind/body (well, mine) doesn’t retain this easily. But Ginny’s audition is more personal, quirkier, and somehow I can hold onto these moves: circle the face, cradle the head, rotate the arm, over, back… My body’s waking up. I’m taller somehow. I want to be a dancer now… (Over-60s – bless…).

August 1967: I’ve got the latest Beatles LP under my arm! It’s called, strangely, ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, and inside the gatefold cover is a sheet of designs by Peter Blake – designs that you can cut out and keep – and even wear. I can’t wait to play it when I get to this party. Hard guitar on the title track, a bit of whimsical singalong stuff for Ringo (well, OK, but a good chorus), Lucy in the Sky (aaah, yes, psychedelic!), sitars and tabla, Lovely Rita, with orgasmic panting, and Good Morning, with a great biting guitar solo, then the churning Sergeant Pepper reprise, and A Day in the Life – amazing! Trippy!

But on side two, what’s this corny old-time thing? Sort of vaudeville style with a clarinet…’When I get older, losing my hair’..? Perhaps I’ll skip that track at the party. I sort of like it though.. ‘Vera, Chuck, and Dave.’ Funny.

In 1967 it was twenty years ago that Sergeant Pepper apparently taught the band to play, which would make it 1947: a time of rationing, austerity, a bitterly cold winter, and my birth. And I still get the valentine.

My brother-in-law(-in-law) shows me round the house he’s built in Shoreham. It’s not his house, though – he built it for someone else. It’s in classic Modernist style: all clean rectangles, open, light, beautiful wood finishes – I wish it were mine. Inside, an open staircase above a mosaic pool leads up to the open-plan living area. Lovely proportions, exquisite attention to detail. Huge smooth-sliding windows form the whole width of the house; all you can see is beach, sea, horizon, sky.

Two minutes away are the houseboats. Not just boats that are lived in: some of them are evolving art installations, with pieces being added, welded on, changed – the inventiveness is exhilarating. One boat is topped by a coach above heart-shaped windows, another has a car set in the side. A gate is made from a salvaged railway-signal, a letterbox from a microwave on a post. A large bomb, nose-down in the mud, is made from a buoyancy float, ‘PEACE’ exquisitely cut into its side. Everywhere there are bright colours, flowers and vegetables growing, amazing juxtapositions.

The ordered and the random; the cool and the wild; design and art.

A sky of solid blue, blazing sun, and the shushing of waves on the shingle beach – and it’s October.

We’ve carried our picnic down from the car-park to the beach steps but the tide is coming in and soon there will be nothing to sit on; we walk up the path to the top of Seaford Head, clear a space in the rabbit-droppings and spread the ancient blanket. Bacon and parmesan muffins, asparagus, figs and a bottle of Sauvignon in its silver chiller-jacket: this is a classy picnic – we’ve got Sheffield son and girlfriend with us.

We walk down the hill past the much-photographed coastguard cottages and spread our towels, and after limping over the pebbles I have to dive into the sea. It’s colder than it looks, and after a bit of puffing, floating and staring up into the blue I’m crawling painfully back out again.

A beefy-bicepped man in tattoos and shades strolls along the top of the beach with a tiny dachsund straining on a lead; another, leathery dark-tanned, poses in tight split-sided trunks. A thin white youth in flappy football shorts fails to skim stones over the sea.

Just the whoosh of the waves, distant children’s squeals, seagullszzzzzz….

Under an ominous sky a half-naked man, writhing in his death throes, lurches towards the high coppiced-wood fence surrounding him. His body is like a Grünewald Christ: thin, ribby and pale, his face painted white. All around him, there’s the clashing of cymbals and the sounding of horns. And fire. But the crowd is silent.

About 150 people – men, women, children, dogs – have walked, following the flags, pipes and drum, from Harting Down. A woman blowing a long twisted antelope horn had called this strange figure from the trees on the hill, this very white man, in slow ritual Butoh movements: in his hands, stag’s antlers. Dogs in the crowd growled at the sight – no other sound. The stag worked his way along the valley, stalked and harried by three figures, also in white, hands and bodies angular and aggressive.

Now the stag is driven, wounded, down this long high corral of woven sticks, hounded by the drums, the cymbals, the fire. But as he dies, wrapped in a long white banner, there’s a tiny high sound from the hill behind him. A woman in a long red dress leads a white horse with a strange figure on it. As they come nearer, you can see it’s a woman, a Mongolian woman in high collared national dress, and the sound is a beautiful and eerie song, a traditional Long Song.

She sings us up the valley, to the tolling of deep bells, until we reach a place of flags, and a crescendo of gongs. The stag-man slowly winds his way up the hill trailing the long white banner, and the horse-woman and her escort rides away to the right, stlll singing…

This has been ‘Chalk’ – an installation and performance by Red Earth. Extraordinary, moving, unsettling.

Sweeping up in All Saints. Again. I’ve done this many times – after gigs, mostly, but these days, it’s after the Lewes Junior Film Club events. At 7.30 on a Sunday morning I really do not want to get up: I arrive at the arts centre feeling grumpy and sluggish, and sticking things up rather slowly. Then you realize we’ve got an hour to get the crepe decorations up, the A-board sorted, the banner ‘Third Spectacular Season: SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN’, hung from the lamp-arch outside (takes much longer than you think), the ‘red carpet’ stuck down on the path…

The audience starts arriving early  – we’re still gaffer-taping the red carpet down – and Midge has rigged up a hose to shower them as they come through the gate. They don’t like to walk on the carpet, even though it’s for them – and they walk round it respectfully, as Jeremy and Ellie greet “Meryl Streep!”, “Welcome, Robert De Niro!”, and  “Oh, here’s little Tatum O’Neal!” over the PA, and we clap and whistle. Then the young dancers burst through the gate to the punch of ‘Good Morning! Good Mor-ning!’ and perform their choreographed piece up and down the path, and inside, in a mini-Busby-Berkeley routine – with chairs.

I used to find this film really cheesy, corny, embarrassing, dominated as it is by Gene Kelly’s crinkly big grin. Now it’s definitely in my top ten. It’s joyful, vibrant, dynamic, corny, sentimental, cheesy – and wonderful. It has the biggest audience so far at LJFC events – and the kids love it. I, of course, wipe away a silly tear as it ends. And start sweeping up.

On the tube with my trusty shoulder-bag – it feels like travelling again. The Miró exhibition is terrific, from his exquisite stylised painting of a farmhouse through to big white canvases with a single black line crawling across them; ladders reaching to the sky, comic cartoon faces, asterisks for stars – much of it thick with his revulsion for Franco’s fascist regime. Tate Modern is bustling with tourists and Londoners – it’s proof of the pull of art.

In the Member’s Room for lunch and a beer, I’m curtly rebuffed each time I ask ‘Is anyone sitting here?’ So, grumpy, I’m out on the roof terrace, looking at the rising phallic Shard topped by its high crane, and the tower of Southwark Cathedral and the roof of The Globe Theatre, until the rain starts to spatter my sketchbook. Inside the galleries: there’s one room with a sheer red mesh ceiling and, hanging from it, a red fabric staircase, a full-size staircase, rippling as people walk under it; they laugh, or stand open-mouthed in awe, or take pictures. It’s amazing, but some just walk through, bored…

Tiny Giacometti figures sprout from a heavy block on long legs, four women in a Paris brothel: ‘The distance seemed insurmountable in spite of my desire,’ he wrote. I draw a striking woman watching a video, then go into the dim Mark Rothko room – the big dark red abstracts vibrate, mysterious as Stonehenge, and still give me goose-pimples. There’s always a hush in there – it is, for me, the most powerful room in the building, a secular chapel.

I watch a long video of garbage blowing around in the street: “American Beauty – c’est la même chose’ says the man next to me. Maybe, but it’s totally mesmerising: a burger box chases paper round in a circle, snapping at it; a plastic spoon tries to heave itself over, a broken umbrella skitters nervously along the white line. You can’t help laughing at these silly dumb creatures in their street ballet… Is this a waste of public money? Not to me.

In the shop, I misread a book-title: ‘How To Paint Ike Turner’…


‘What do ya do when you meet the Devil?’ (no, the answer is no longer Give Him Your Guitar To Tune Up). The question is shouted from the stage of the Plumpton Beer and Blues Festival, organised by the Plough Inn, which is why Beer comes first in the title. And loads of beer – a long row of barrels, my favourite being the coffee beer. Really.

Sadly the big field dwarfs a smattering of blues fans, or beer fans, probably both. When we’d arrived, there’d been a skiffle-kind of act in the beer tent, banjo and percussion and toys, who were really quirky and tight, but the blues band on the big stage reminds me of the Bonzo Dogs’ immortal question: ‘Can The Blue Men Sing the Whites?’ to which the answer is, Not Generally. It’s leaden and lumpen and loud. I can’t help but trot out my history (again!): watching Sonny Boy Williamson on stage, mean and menacing in shiny black suit and bowler, rolling his harmonica around in his mouth; Jimmy Reed, bouncing into the Bromel Club in ruffled shirt and bolero jacket, chunking out Big Boss Man; and John Lee Hooker leaving his English backing backing band adrift with his idiosyncratic changes. And yes, young man, I really did buy him a Scotch.

The blues was, is, a form: 12 bars, three chords, simple – eh? But it’s about feeling, intensity, space and swing. In Chicago in the 50’s they had little amplifiers, a double bass, small kit, and a rough sound. Listen to Buddy Guy’s ‘First Time I Met the Blues’ with his anguished yelps and frenetic guitar, or Howlin’ Wolf growling out ‘Goin’ Down Slow’ – and you get the picture.

Anyway – we (Ska Toons, that is – what were WE doing there?) are in the beer tent: local band. We go on after The Contenders finish their set with a driving version of Talking Heads’ ‘Life During Wartime’, still wondering what this crowd are going to make of an eight-piece jazz-ska band. And, extraordinarily, the beer’n’blues audience tap their feet, nod their heads, drink their beer, a few dance. All smiles. We finish and the sound man signals ‘Off’. We get off stage. The crowd are still calling for an encore. The sound man signals ‘All Right – Encore If You Like’. We blast through a fast ‘Monkey Man’ and leave. And yes, we did play a blues:  ‘Night Train’.

‘With Shimano EZFire controls shifting gear is quick and accurate’ says my brochure. And it is until I shift my new bike’s chain quickly and accurately off the cog. Rear Derailleur Shimano TX55 Chainset  Shimano FC-M171 48/38/28 Bottom Bracket Cartridge Chain UG51 – I don’t know what this signifies either. The reality, though, is changing down on St Pancras Road, determined to get up that steep bend. And – ka-chang – off.

I’m out at 6.30 on Wednesday morning for my first ride and, for a non-cyclist, this is the feeling I wanted: rush of cool breeze, spinning along wooded lanes, quiet fields, pink sky behind Firle Beacon. I’m singing at the rabbits scattering before my tyres – ‘RubyRubyRubybaby’ and imagining I’m in a Frank Patterson drawing – an Oxford-bagged fellow with pipe-stem jutting from manly jaw. One of his chaps, foot on a five-barred gate, surveying the peaceful 1920’s landscape under towering cumulo-nimbus, exquisitely-inked, his cycle propped against a densely-cross-hatched elm trunk.

A Gresham Flyer when I was five, a second-hand Hercules at 11, a used Raleigh Wayfarer at thirty, a mountain bike (the latest thing!) when I moved to Lewes twenty years ago (promptly nicked): bikes – I’ve had a few (but then again etc); now I’m going places. Just get this – ugh, greasy – chain back on, and then…