jeudi 31 janvier 2013

mardi 29 janvier 2013

The Babysitters’ Club

I am just assuming that we all read – or were at least aware of – The Babysitters’ Club.  So really the only question is ‘who was your favourite?’.

It was a funny thing, I read all of the books avidly when I was about 11 and wracked my brains for a club that I could start, which would follow a similar format (fun meetings with my friends, a dedicated phone line like Kristy’s, making money, distributing flyers around the local area and being known as an interesting young entrepreneur) – despite having little to zero interest in actual babysitting.  The babysitting bit I could totally live without.  I don’t think I ever came up with a viable alternative.  Yet still I was totally obsessed with the books, buying them by the batch with my pocket money and then reading them in one sitting.

I wonder if you can guess who my favourite babysitter was?  Spoiler: it was Claudia Kishi.  I mean, she was awesome!  She had multiple ear piercings (which I was desperate to have).  There were itemised descriptions of her ‘crazy’ fashion sense and homemade outfits – much like mine, only mine were far less successful.  She was Japanese-American (exotic) and apparently had ‘long black hair and perfect skin’.  She was clearly the best one.

The first book I read in the series was actually the second – Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls.  I have no recollection of the plot, beyond the fact I thought it was totally rad.  My favourites were all Claudia stories – Claudia and the New Girl was particularly good, in which she became best friends with Ashley, an arty chick who was way cooler than the other babysitters (drama ensued); and Claudia and The Sad Goodbye, in which her lovely grandmother Mimi died, had me verging on hysteria.

I must admit that I found Kristy and Mary-Anne pretty boring.  (It was a bit like the ‘who’s your favourite Spice Girl?’ thing – it would always be the one most like you [ahem, Geri].)  I didn’t have much in common with Kristy (bossy tomboy) or Mary-Anne (shy good girl).  My second favourite was Stacey McGill – Claudia’s best friend, a cool blonde maths genius originally from New York.  I suppose that makes Dawn my third-favourite, which sounds about right.  Some of the Stacey books were also among my favourites – Boy Crazy Stacey, set on holiday in New Jersey, was one of the best, if memory serves; and the one where they go and visit her in New York was amazing.

The New York one may have been a ‘super bumper special’ or whatever they were called.  They were great – epic-length adventures featuring all the gang in improbable situations or on holidays.  These definitely involved such scenarios as: going on a cruise, going to Disneyland, getting stranded on a remote island, winning the lottery, getting snowed in.  You know the kinda thing.

There were definitely elements that would be different today.  I seem to remember that Stacey’s diabetes was treated as a massive drama, as if she might go into a hyperglycaemic coma at any moment – not a brilliant message.  Plus, there’s the fact that they were… a bit rubbish.

Anyway, even better – when Googling the BSC for reminders, I found this brilliant, brilliant article:

Now I’m off to see if you can get the BSC books on Kindle…

vendredi 25 janvier 2013

Forgotten gems: All Pop No Star by the Slingbacks

I bought this record in a charity shop because I liked the cover.  I don’t think I have ever seen a Slingbacks record anywhere but a charity shop.

I’m happy I found it, because it’s a record I still come back to a lot.  It’s from 1996 but is oddly ageless, because the sound is pure 70s rock-pop and the lyrics focus on a special type of nostalgia, referencing the Beatles, the Partridge Family, ‘darling Burroughs’ and the Rolling Stones.

It’s an album that should be the soundtrack to a movie of a hazy long-ago summer, a summer that changed your life and you will always look back on as one of the golden times.  Maybe, in my case, the summer you turned 16 and suddenly got hot and the boy you’d been in love with for as long as you can remember finally saw sense and wanted you to be his proper girlfriend.  That summer when you wore flares and flimsy vests and had your bellybutton pierced.  Maybe a summer that ended in heartbreak.

Starting with No Way Down about discovering the power of rock n roll – ‘she wore glitter and a fringe and lace-up boots/I wanna be like her when I grow up – even though she isn’t in the Beatles!’ as ‘we were sparkling from the chemicals’, then through love and fun and finally loss as autumn comes (‘I remember you and me in that autumn teen sound/Kiss me once before our summer fades…’).

So many of the retrospectively knowing lyrics still remind me of that same boy, and maybe all cool boys that age: the ultimate all pop no star, boys in bands who you presume are way deeper than they actually are.  ‘Suburbs sleeping, caught in your daydream/What a nightmare, you are just eighteen…  Sometimes I hate you, but you’re the only one who understands – I’ll think it over until I come around’.

All the way through to the final acoustic weepy, Stupid Boyfriend (‘please don’t let me be with a restless boyfriend’).  My cousin Niki and I would sing along in my bedroom, earnestly.

This record is a classic to, I think, pretty much nobody but me.  But, if you are so inclined, I really recommend putting it on, maybe putting on your old suede miniskirt and ringer T-shirt with Adidas Gazelles, and reliving a time that we never really had.  Go through it to the end, remember all those long sunny days when it was always hot, and in the end be reminded ‘how yellow and red autumn really is’.

dimanche 20 janvier 2013

My Favourite Songs by My Favourite Bands: Cat Power

1. He-War
This is a permanent fixture on my most-listened-to iPod lists.   Quite simply, it is a thing of real beauty and I never get tired of it.  You Are Free is definitely my favourite Cat Power album, and this is probably my favourite song from it – the perfect lo-fi pop song.

2. Free
This is from the same record and I love it just as much.  So many of the Chan Marshall trademarks are there to full effect: sparse, beats, deceptively simple but kind of universal lyrics, beautiful/smoky/melancholy singing.  So many people say that Cat Power songs are depressing, but I really disagree – they often feel so triumphant, and this one always makes me feel empowered and energised.

3. Cross Bones Style
For full effect, you need to watch the video.  It is fabulous – cute young pre-makeover Chan with her short hair and chubby face.  The song on its own is quite enough, though – probably the saddest dance song you will ever hear.

4. Nude As The News
This was the first Cat Power song I ever heard – on a mixtape given to me by a girl I don’t see any more.  It’s spooky and skeletal and beautiful – the very best of her early work, in my humble opinion.

5. Lived In Bars
Like so many of her songs, this one makes me want to dance and cry all at once.  It starts off wistful and builds up to such a gorgeous, unexpectedly jazzy rhythm that makes an uncontrollable joyous feeling build up in my chest until I can’t breathe.

6. Song for Bobby
This is the only original song on the otherwise all-covers Jukebox.  IT fits in perfectly because it is an homage to ‘God’ Dylan.  It is fitting, lovely, romantic, and really cute.

7. Cherokee
The first song on her new record, Sun.  Even the first line of it – ‘never knew love like this…’ – is sung so beautifully that it sets the tone for the whole album.  It’s lusher than a lot of her early work – lots of synths and beats for the first time – but still somehow very stark.  There’s something really haunting about many of the lines in this, repeated for great effect: ‘Marry me, marry me to the sky…  If I die before my time/Bury me upside down.  Cherokee, kiss me, when I’m on my way down…’

8. Blue
Chan does such a lovely line in smoky, jazzy covers.  And a Joni cover – of one of my favourite songs of all time, no less – especially.

9. Time
Since this came out, I cannot stop listening to it.  It has become my anthem, something to keep me going when I need to be brave.  ‘It’s up to you to be a superhero/It’s up to you to be like nobody.’

10. I Don’t Blame You
A poignant piano moment from You Are Free – ending on my favourite LP, where I started.  A perfect circle, as far as I am concerned, on all levels.

vendredi 18 janvier 2013


We are moving into a new house.  It is tiny and pretty and lovely.  It is in my favourite area of Brighton.  It will be the first time I have lived in a whole house (not flat) in nearly ten years – and that was with housemates so doesn’t really count.

Prior to this, we have lived in three different flats in Brighton.  We have lived in the same area for well over five years now and we really love it, although I think we’re ready for the change.

Things I will miss about Seven Dials:
  • ·      The amazing local shop and all my friends there being right on my doorstep.
  • ·      The Battle of Trafalgar pub.
  • ·      Sing-Li fish and chips.
  • ·      Being able to walk to Brighton station and into the Lanes in under a minute.
  • ·      My tried and tested running routes.

We have lived in our current flat for only just over a year and a half (but before that we lived basically across the road – you can see our previous flat from the kitchen window).  It is not our dream flat but it has been good to us and we have got used to each other.  When we moved in, it was during a time of turmoil – we had to move at just the time I was made redundant from my job, so I was simultaneously (and pretty unwillingly) leaving a job and a flat that I had been in for a good few years.  Since then life has calmed down and I hope it will continue to do so.

Things I will remember about the Buckingham Road flat:
  • ·      Being able to see the sea from my bedroom window.
  • ·      Feeling cocooned on the top floor.
  • ·      The nasty brown carpets.
  • ·      The sweet little galley kitchen that reminds me of Paris.
  • ·      The awful downstairs neighbours who filled the communal hallway with rubbish, had comically noisy sex whenever we sat down to dinner and one of whom would play Times Like These by the Foo Fighters (presumably the only song he could play on his acoustic guitar), repeatedly, every Sunday afternoon.  Somewhat annoyingly, they moved out only about a month ago and much nicer neighbours moved in.
  • ·      The broken hallway light that nobody ever came and fixed.
  • ·      The angry American next door – who we could hear shouting through the walls every time we were in the kitchen, but who was softly-spoken, polite and usually on his way to yoga whenever I saw him in the street.
  • ·      The excellent shower, coupled with the weird fact that the only bathroom in the flat is the en-suite (providing much fun for overnight guests).
  • ·      Sunshine in the sitting room on Sunday afternoons.
  • ·      Making bivouacs.

So, we are now off to a new house and a whole new area.  Wish me luck.

mercredi 16 janvier 2013

Forgotten gems: At the Club and Get In by Kenickie

Kenickie weren’t exactly obscure (and of course Lauren Laverne has gone on to bigger and more mainstream things) – but I think most people would struggle to name one of their songs (Stay in the Sun, maybe?  In Your Car?)

Kenickie were one of those bands that were great because they felt like a proper gang (and they sang about it, too – ‘Time goes slow in the dark, getting drunk in the park/We’ve got our gang and I know we’ll always be friends!’).  They were best mates first and a band second – like most of the ‘bands’ I’ve been in, they decided they were a band way before they had written any songs or could play anything decent.  They were the very welcome polar opposite to a band like, say, Garbage – who were cool but seemed more like a corporation than a group.

Their first LP, At the Club, was a burst of joy and fun when it came out – songs about being smalltown teenagers by actual smalltown teenagers.  As such they captured perfectly the dizzy high of ‘Getting chatted up by the lads/Bombing down the street, it’s a laugh…  She drank all that we had/Then she threw up and I was glad’ and the classic couplet ‘I can’t work with heavy coats, they’re not revealing/Have to steal each other’s clothes, so we’re all freezing’.  It was like something we all could have written ourselves about what we did the last weekend, from my Saturday job in a café for £2.50 per hour, to running to Miss Selfridge with my wages before it closed after and meeting all my friends.

Then it goes from the ridiculous (‘PVC – it’s my favourite plastic, cos it’s nice and shiny, and completely waterproof!’) and into the lovely depressed-philosophical territory of staying in on schoolnights and overthinking things (‘I would like another way to breathe/Keep my eyes wide open in my sleep/Cos when I’m underwater, you keep me under glass’).  And my personal favourite, the very metaphysical Robot Song – ‘I wish I had the skill to stop my thinking/Contemplate each breath, to make sure that it’s done – it’s not instinctive’).

The percussion is largely provided by handclaps and finger-clicks; the call-and-response style is utilised wherever possible, and the word ‘yeah’ is used possibly more times than on any other record.  Even the cover art sums up that teen era – various passport and Polaroid style photos of four going mental in London, wearing afghan coats, too much eyeliner, sparkly skirts, ripped fishnets and clumpy heels.

Then, being only a few years older than me, they grew up as we did.  Their second and final album, Get In, is – contrary to the jaunty title – a total comedown album.  It’s full of flat-sounding synths, brittle beats and wistful vocals.  It’s all about those long depressing late nights and early mornings, rather than the great ones – the ones where you get all dressed up and the person who you wanted to notice you isn’t even at the party.  Sun is up and the dawn it is pale blue/We’re on Nintendo sitting in your front room/I can’t see through the smoke and I’m tired/But I’m not sleeping yet cos I’m just too wired’.  And the plaintive ‘We didn’t drink on weeknights/When we were young’ – which seemed so sad and true when I was 18 and living alone for the first time.  Most heartbreaking of all is the talk of ‘all that washing, all that hoping’ only to find that ‘that’s why no one wants you’.

It’s also about growing up and growing apart from your friends, leaving your hometown and looking after yourself, which is sometimes exciting and sometimes horrible – ‘Do people say your voice has changed when you’ve been away?  Do you look at them see you and wish they could see it too?’ and ‘It’s been said, there are thousands of places not like this one/When you’re dead, there are millions of faces – why did I get this one?’.

Basically, if you listen to these two albums back to back, it feels like my life from the ages of 17 to 21.  Although both records were a few years old by then, that was when I listened to them the most.  And they still take me right back there, smoking fags and listening to John Peel in a tiny little high-up flat by the sea.