‘Gertrude’

drawing chest of drawers and spiderThe sock drawer used to be a safe place. An ordinary place from which socks, neatly cuffed into pairs, could be drawn for wearing. But now Gertrude has moved in and Gertrude likes her privacy. Gertrude is large and black and she darts quick as you like to the front of the drawer as it opens; hanging there, pulsing, her long legs bristling until the retrieval is over – which it is, very quickly. Her intelligence is mysterious, immeasurable, palpable. While Gertrude owns the sock drawer, I will wear tights.

 

From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018.

 

‘Kitchen Forensics’

drawing of fliesMy resolve falters as I reach the kitchen door. It will be huge and offensive. It will require a delicate touch. It will be mine to deal with – yuk!

As I approach, an advance scouting party of flies lifts off and disperses itself across less appetising surfaces to wait, I imagine, for the all-clear. Well, not for a while and not here I tell them. I peer forensically at the agglutinated mass, put on gloves and aim a squirt of surfactant at the festering heap. Then, dissecting out two small bones and a piece of cartilage, I wonder for the nth time how come last night’s washing up is always my job[1].

 

 

 

[1] If you’ve ever shared a flat and had a party, you know how this goes. That is, unless you’re the one who gets up last and it’s all been done, gets up so early your hangover hasn’t even started yet and you leave the house in your underpants, or you emerge from the wardrobe three days later and nobody knows who you are.

 

From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018.

‘Micro Management’

drawing of man painting sinking boat‘So they want us to use a particular font of a particular size and a particular colour for our email signatures?’[1]

‘Yep’

‘And there’s no corporate stationery or template for this?’

‘Nope, you make your own.’

‘I see.’ I think it over, devoting a whole nanosecond to the process, which still seems rather too much in view of the subject matter. I deliver my judgment.

‘And when, collectively, we blow it out of our arses, do they want it to be a particular fragrance?’

Ok, not exactly constructive, I’ll give you that, but when the boat’s sinking, you don’t call in the painters and decorators do you? We aren’t meeting our targets and why? Because management is fiddling with the curtains when they should be checking out the dry rot. Each time a target is missed, instead of finding out why that happened, they simply beat everyone over the head with a big stick, threaten to name and shame poor performers and delete a whole band of jobs. The upshot? You guessed – the people who were doing one job and failing to meet targets are now doing two, one of which they didn’t apply for, have no skills in and don’t understand. So what happens? Right again. Even more targets get missed, another round of deletions ensues and suddenly everyone is doing three jobs, only one of which they have a now fading grasp upon.

Meanwhile, somebody with no important nail varnishing or nose hair removal scheduled, has got the hump about email signatures that show a spark of originality, and you’d think it is a form of insurgency given the attention it’s receiving.

I examine my signature: wrong font, wrong size, wrong colour. Perfect.

[1] This could apply to almost any corporate body, any time, anywhere. It didn’t.

 

From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018.

‘The Bridge’

drawing of cowI am moseying along the river bank, heading towards the old wooden bridge. In the far pasture over on the other side, a batch of newly turned-out cattle is cavorting and bucking in celebration of its liberation. Also on the far side, well ahead of and oblivious to the cattle, is a family; a two + two of seemingly stranded townies who are staring with incredulity at the stile over which they must climb in order to cross the bridge. Each of them is carrying rather more bulk than is strictly necessary, and they clearly see the narrow step up and over as a ridiculous indulgence put there by the locals for no other reason than to inconvenience visitors.

They turn their attention to the metal gate, a makeshift affair bent to fit the wider entrance and there to give access for the odd cyclist or baby buggy. Lugging it aside far enough to allow them through, which is a substantial distance, the group is meandering onto the bridge, leaving the gate open. I call across.

‘Would you close that please?’

‘What?’ The man gathers the beginnings of a hostile expression onto his face, and it seems to suit him.

‘The gate, would you close the gate please. You just opened it.’

‘What for?’ The four of them draw together in a belligerent tableau.

‘It’s there to stop large, mindless beasts from getting onto the bridge, which is quite old and a bit delicate.’ I wave at the rumbustious cattle and then at the pock-holed planks and struts upon which they are standing. I look up and smile, ‘Too late though, I see.’

I step up my pace and skip over the stile onto the track back into the village wondering how long it will take them:

One …

Two …

‘Oi! What the … ?’

Ok – not bad.

 

From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018.

Photography, art, and copyright

abstract image

Drowning Fields adapted from an original photograph by Slawek Staszczuk http://www.photoss.net

Since re-entering the art world recently (long layoff, politics, diversion, good-career-anyway-so-never-mind!), I’ve discovered something I hadn’t known which is that many people work from photographs, replicating the image with superb (or varying degrees of) accuracy, or placing on it their own interpretation. Many use their own photos for this, after all, it’s got to be more comfortable painting a landscape back indoors than struggling with the elements on a windy hillside, and do cats ever sit still when you need them to? But some don’t, they use images from the internet or cut from magazines and, from what I can tell, many are unaware that using those images is a breach of copyright if they pass them off as their own, and especially if they go on to enter them in competitions or benefit financially from them without crediting the photographer and getting their permission to do that. It’s a bit like someone re-typing one of my stories in a different font or rendering it as a poem and then cashing in on it without mentioning that it was mine in the first place, and since that’s plagiarism so must be using photographs in that way.

The image then: This is based on a photo from a magazine which my local art group has chosen as a project by which all of us can display our different skills. Most will never see a public platform of any kind but you know me, I was born with an Enter button pre-installed just waiting for the internet to happen! The photographer is Slawek Staszczuk and his website is www.photoss.net. Our agreement is that my adaptations of his work will not be used in connection with any commercial venture or for any profit which, to my mind, includes even local art competitions, and that I will send him links to wherever they end up – something he may regret asking! I’d include his original for comparison but since I’ve no idea what magazine it came from, I can’t request permission so you’ll have to take it from me that it’s very beautiful, full of luscious greens, and about as far from my interpretation as it’s possible to get. As to what ‘Drowning Fields’ means, you’ll not be surprised to find there’s an ecological message paddling around in there about rising sea levels. It’s probably easier to pick out in the colour version*, executed in Rebelle2 software, where you might spot a seal, a whale, turtles, and coral. The monochrome skinned down image above was further filtered in Procreate on my iPad.

I have paint and I’ve even used it recently but heck, I couldn’t resist importing the picture and running it through some software for added oomph! It’s called Beach Huts and it’s on the Rebelle* site next to this one. The sky top left quarter is unadulterated paint and pastel.

*My grandly titled gallery for Rebelle based work is here.This software is very easy to use, unlike some of the more elaborate programmes such as Paint Shop Pro’s Painter/Essentials. The paint behaves like paint, it runs and blots and drifts about, it merges unless you dry it, and you can do that with a click which is a whole lot easier than a hair dryer! What’s more, there’s no palette for cats to wander through, or water to knock over (or absently take a swig from instead of your coffee), and no disposal problem for leftover oils and acrylics. And if your eyesight is becoming a tad iffy, you benefit from being able to zoom right in while you dot in the tiny details. Perfect!

‘Let Me Tell You a Story’

Now released as an album via Soundcloud. All audio tracks are free to access but if you prefer to see what they’re saying, the book is still available from Amazon.

‘I Don’t Like Mondays’

drawing of car on top of trainI am travelling to work as usual but I have changed my route slightly with a view to using the outdoor parking area. So, tootling gently along and preparing to turn right at the appointed moment, I am mildly irritated to find that there is an obstruction accompanied by a degree of ill-tempered inter-vehicular communication, blocking my preferred exit so I have to drive on to the next one. It’s 8.15 on a Monday morning, I already don’t need this.

Missing that turn means heading for the underground car park, a dismal affair at the best of times, but with the influx of new parties having permission to use it, it’s currently wearing an air of contained chaos along with the obligatory grunge. My car and I plunge down into the murky depths. At the bottom, there’s a narrow-ish track with, to the right, some shops and to the left, a railway line. In fact the track is a lot like a station platform with all the bustle you’d associate with that environment. Vans juggling around bikes, bikes juggling around people, and everybody rushing. The buses come down here too to discharge passengers bound for the day care services above, so wheelchairs and the occasional lurching individual unsteady on their pins but going like the clappers anyway, appear – like those targets used by the military to teach soldiers how not to shoot the good guys.  I pick my way along, keeping an eye on the drop to the left onto the rail line.

 

Suddenly, a van pulls in from the right and starts to move into my space. Any closer and I’m taking the 8.45 to Victoria, assuming my unorthodox boarding strategy doesn’t impede its progress. I holler. The driver ignores me so I stop. This is one situation in which discretion is probably the best approach but there’s a jam up ahead and he is stationary in it. I leap out of the car, hurl myself up the road after him, and let him have the full glare with elbows akimbo in through his open window. He winds it up and lets off a stream of invective without waiting to hear what I have to say. It looks as though he may be used to this kind of encounter, in which case he’s going to win because he’s undoubtedly better at voluble ignorance from inside his cab than I am at articulate indignation from the middle of the road.

I retreat and head back to my car to resume my journey. Well, that’s the plan anyway but there’s a flaw in that the car has vanished. I trawl the locality, up and down, in and out of road-side establishments. Eventually I come across a man at a fruit and veg stall who knows what happened and it’s not good; it’s far from good. He’s been talking to a Detective Chief Inspector and now I get to talk to him too. I explain what happened and he tells me my car has been impounded so I’ll have to apply to get it back but it might be ‘a while’ because they’re investigating a murder that has major implications and my car is one of its casualties. ‘But I’m going on leave!’ I wail, with all the naïveté of a person whose winning lottery ticket just emerged from the heavy-wash-spin cycle as a bedraggled lump of papier mache.

At this point, the fire sprinklers start up and my new T shirt becomes transparent. To say this is not turning out well is an understatement. My car has been impounded in a murder case and won’t be released for decades, I am late for work and I am essentially naked in a public place.  What to do?

Well, wake up of course[1]. They say some dreams take only seconds of real time; but this one took a life-time’s worth of anxiety metaphors and, when I’ve got them all pinned down and translated I am SO going to have words with the local chapter of Psychotherapists Anonymous. They’d better have insurance is all I can say

[1] Yes, really sorry about that but it happened and it took me most of the morning, which did not involve close encounters with trains or involuntary indecent exposure, to recover. Vivid narrative dreams that I actually remember are a rarity and normally I’m just left with a vague feeling of having fought off the screeching  hordes of Hades with nothing to show for it but a couple of detached spider legs on the pillow.

 

From From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018.

‘McCartney and Hendrix Should Not Be Held Responsible’

drawing woman playing guitarDid we talk about my guitar lessons? No, probably not.  Well, after a zillion years of consuming the product of other people’s efforts, I’ve decided to take a shot at it myself. I did used to play, plucking out a melody on an upside-down old acoustic and receiving the adulation of family members, but that’s where it stopped. When you’re a leftie, anatomically speaking, in the early sixties and have the social constraints both of class and being a GIRL, the idea that account might be taken of your disadvantage never occurs to anyone. Yes, we had Paul McCartney but beyond noticing that his guitar was the wrong way round, we never gave a thought to how he managed to make the same notes as everyone else or what he did with his strings. At the time, we were more preoccupied with his boyish rabbit-in-headlights appearance which contrasted nicely with Lennon’s rather more rakish demeanour. Looking like the kid who just got detention for hiding in the cloakroom during break and hauled out by his ear, Lennon was the Beatle parents least wanted their daughters to warm to, although even he was preferable to any number of Rolling Stones whose unwashed and deviant personae sent dads into a frenzy of gate-keeping activity. To say there was a national lock-down for teenage girls during that era is to suggest that Khrushchev and Kennedy were maybe having a bit of a spat over a few silly weapons in Cuba. Had there been DIY stores at the time, the run on locks and heavy duty razor wire would have cleaned them out.

Anyway, the upshot was that, plonking aside, I never really got to ‘do’ any music. Even when Hendrix crashed onto the scene, his handedness rather passed me by.  By that time I was at art college and although art was essentially the medium through which its practitioners would abstract and interpret the real world, actually living in it was not terribly cool so we didn’t. As a result, I was more inclined to float enigmatically and with a studiously vacant expression to ‘Purple Haze’ than try to figure out how he achieved an Amaj7. It didn’t matter of course. Unlike doing the high jump, playing tennis or rounders, or passing maths exams. Ok, maybe the last wasn’t so much down to being left handed as being mathematically brain-dead but you get the picture.  With tennis, I was always facing the wrong way and spent most lessons searching in the cow field for a ball that my powerful but undisciplined clout sent there. Rounders? Goes straight to first base and you’re out. Embarrassing but not injurious, unlike the high jump when, taking off from the same start as the righties, you end up in a tangle of legs and poles through trying to pirouette in mid-air having taken off from the opposite foot.

The delight, although possibly not for my close neighbours, is that a search through that wonderful Emporium, the Internet, reveals gee-tars of all kinds, including a selection properly constructed and strung for lefthanders. Unfortunately, the one I bought didn’t come with a plug-in talent chip so I’m having to struggle with fingers that now seem ridiculously short and fat, a chest I can’t see over to find the chords, and a left hand that has suddenly become more wooden than an entire series of Space 1999[1].

I have a patient teacher. He plays heroically along while I crash and stutter from A to C, D to Em, then G to something that ought to be C again but plainly isn’t.  After practising the simple ditties he left me (‘Jambalaya’ being one and ‘Wonderful Tonight’ another and I am SO SORRY you guys.) I discovered I have two speeds. The first, my troubadour mode, results in recognisable chords at least and goes chord tuneless-wailing, chord more-wailing. The vocals, if we can call them that, offer an interval of time during which I can line up for the next strike of the strings in the manner of an ice skater preparing for a big jump. There is certainly a jump but I rather fancy the scores would come in at a generous 3.2 leaving me well out of the medals.

My other speed is George Formby. Told to keep moving, never mind what the right hand is doing, my left is going like the clappers on the grounds that any attention to its activities will bring it shuddering to a halt. You won’t have heard ‘Sorrow’ played in the ‘When I’m Cleaning Windows’ styleeee I expect and for that you should be more than grateful.  In fact if you pay me, I might consider not putting it on YouTube. I’m not greedy, a couple of quid each would be fine. Tonight I have a Roxy Music number in my sights.

[1] What can you say about Space 1999? Like Thunderbirds without the strings, it was on British TV in the 1970s and probably set the standard for Blake’s 7. We were easy to please.

 

From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018.

Unlocked: final three audio tracks from Let Me Tell You A Story

So go on, let us do that – we’re ready and waiting.

‘Terminus‘; descent into a room of sly eyes.

‘Puddles Like Pillows’. When gravity stops holding things down & litter fills the skies.

Phillippa Yaa de Villiers exceptional poem, ‘Origin’. 

From Let Me Tell You a Story available from Amazon.

‘Dressing Up Boxes, and Dressing Up By Wearing Boxes’

drawing of figure with wingsYou have to be a certain age to remember dressing up boxes. Today’s tiny tots can put in for a replica of the entire Beckham estate for Xmas & call their lawyers if Santa doesn’t deliver, so the frisson of transforming cast off curtains and abandoned antimacassars into theatrical costumery will be lost to them.

Our dressing up box was a battered old suitcase out of which we selected ancient curtains & lace doilies to serve as the trappings of royalty. Net curtains became the wings or the floaty ethereal dresses of fairies; the big velvet ones you had to lug out two-handed transformed scabby-kneed six year-olds into caped crusaders, aided by some tin foil and a cracked cricket stump to serve as a death ray. A bit of old rag and several terabytes of imagination and you were castaways, princesses, knights and astronauts, pirates and bandits, pressing into service old cardboard boxes, stuff from your dad’s tool box and any domestic animals that could be persuaded to wear a bonnet.

But once you’re grown up, that’s it, isn’t it?  Well, no as it turns out. Somewhere in the depths of your computer, assuming it’s fast enough and has a graphics card you could light NASA up with, is the facility to grant access to the biggest dressing up box you ever saw in your life.  Second Life[1], actually. Once you’ve signed up, logged on and discovered how to make your legs work, you can be let loose onto The Grid, as it’s called by its developers, or the ‘What the Cripes Was That?’ as everyone else knows it, at least until they’ve discovered how not to wear boxes on their heads[2].

Once there and in full charge of your limbs, you can head off (walk, fly, teleport if you don’t mind) to a shopping mall of your choice and dress yourself in anything at all that takes your fancy. A bit of a yen to be a punk? Missed out on the Goth era and fancy taking another crack at it? Want to feed your inner Barbara Cartland with acres of pink fluff and confection? No problem.  You can even change your skin colour, your hair and your shape – Bit less bum, rather more leg Madam? Of course. T-W-E-A-K. One person I first came across as a rather gangly bloke, turned up a few days later looking much shorter and rather more girlie.  Clearly either an identity crisis or he/she hadn’t got the hang of the controls yet.

And you don’t have to wait to get your new stuff home before trying it on – just drag it over there and then and … this is the moment you realise that all your clothes just disappeared and you’re standing in a shopping mall wearing only a pair of leopard print stilettos and a mysteriously acquired tattoo on your backside proclaiming, ‘Queen Bitch’ in a large florid font.

Still, at least you haven’t got a chunk of advertising hoarding round your neck or a skateboard with a mind of its own attached to your left foot. Once you have that sort of thing in hand, you can afford to pass off the odd episode of inadvertent exhibitionism with a casual burst of multi-coloured particles, or simply break into some smooth moves you picked up at the animation warehouse. Do be careful with these though, some of them are not too clearly labelled and you don’t want to be demonstrating er, how shall I put this – reproductive behaviour. In a crowded bar. On your own. Best way to get yourself banned.

 

[1] Second Life is a virtual world in which scientists conduct experiments and everyone else dresses as dragons, cats, or women in suspenders whose legs end somewhere under their armpits. The populations are possibly interchangeable.

[2] It still happens. Did it last week.

From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018.