A Room With a View

This is the view from my living room window.

Lovely, isn’t it?

I can see these beautiful sycamore trees from my desk, and they make a great distraction when writer’s block comes calling. For example, this morning there were several enthusiastic magpies bouncing about on the branches, squawking loud enough to wake the dead, and I often see the local squirrel gang playing in these trees, fearlessly leaping and bounding about like tiny Olympic athletes with fluffy tails. Occasionally there will also be green parakeets, which are always a colourful treat to see (albeit a distinctly noisy one!).

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Vintage Animal Magic: ‘Dog Fashions’ (1958)

The world is a thoroughly horrible place at the moment. Every day it seems to get worse and worse. I don’t know about you, but I’m spending a lot of time looking at pictures of cute animals in an attempt to bleach my brain of the terrible things that appear on the news daily. It works – for a while, anyway. So here’s a newsreel snippet of some very trendy 1950s doggos in their designer outfits for you. I hope it makes you smile!

For more from British Pathé (including some fascinating film on vintage fashion for humans), follow their YouTube channels here and here.

‘The Ghost of Greystone Grange’ (1877)

A little bit of bonus Halloween spookiness for you. This overdramatically-posed image of an elderly gentleman being terrified by a ‘White Lady’ is the cover of a late Victorian mystery novel, written by Arthur William A’Beckett (1844-1909). He was a journalist, humourist and writer who contributed to Punch and edited the Sunday Times over the course of his career.

He’s not well-known as a writer today, although a number of his books are available online (many of them are now in the public domain) – including The Ghost of Greystone Grange, which you can even buy for your Kindle! However, it seems that this book’s cover is more exciting and spooky than its contents; I found an Amazon review that described it as “hard going”. Shame really…

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Vintage Cartoon Scares: ‘The Skeleton Dance’ (1929)

Are we feeling spooky? If not, here’s a creepy treat for you this Halloween night. This funky little cartoon is an early Disney animation, and the first of their long-running Silly Symphonies series (reputed to have inspired Warners to call their equivalent Loony Tunes). The plot (what there is of one) is simple but effective: four skeletons cheerfully dance round a graveyard in the dead of night, only stopping their leaping, skipping and jumping when dawn begins to break.

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#KeepingItPeel 2017: Soundgarden (1989)

Today marks the thirteenth anniversary of the death of John Peel, so I’m Keeping It Peel with a choice session from his long-running Radio 1 show. Since we also tragically lost Soundgarden’s astonishing vocalist Chris Cornell earlier this year, I decided on this, recorded by the Seattle band in 1989 – just before the grunge scene exploded into the mainstream.

This session shows Soundgarden in a slightly different light to their usual downtuned metal-influenced rock, featuring as it does unexpected and rather fun versions of Sly & The Family Stone’s ‘Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)’ and John Lennon’s ‘Everybody’s Got Something To Hide (Except Me and My Monkey)’.*

As always with Soundgarden, I recommend you crank the volume up high – and while you do that, I’ll be off to play Badmotorfinger at the wrong speed in tribute to Peel and Cornell; two men who shaped my musical taste at a formative age.

Until next year, keep it Peel…

*If you fancy more unexpected and frankly odd cover versions, head over to Twitter and follow @UnlikelyCovers.

Playlisting: Sporting Animals

Usually, my Playlisting posts involve music, but this one is a little different. Today, we’ll be overrun by pine martens on the pitch, alligators and capybaras on the golf course (not at the same time, obviously), and sheep on the football field – plus a demonstration of the need for goat line technology, an invasion of plastic pigs, psychic octopi, the penguin cup final, various avian pitch invaders, cats with a fascination for ball games, and lots and lots and lots of dogs. Dogs love football. And we all love a dog on the pitch.

This playlist was originally compiled as a bit of fun for the members of an online football prediction league I play in, but it seemed a little unfair not to share the hilarity with a wider audience – so it’s time to meet a selection of sporting (and not so sporting) animals…

If you know of any sporty animal videos that can be added to the playlist, post a link in the comments or tweet me!

Lost Property: The Sequel

Shark shown for illustrative purposes only. Posed by a model.

I’ve long been fascinated by the forgetfulness of human beings. There seems to be a limit to the capacity of the human brain for retaining information before some of it starts falling out of your ears. Your memory card is full, please delete some files to free up space, as it were. But it’s not just forgetting important dates like your mum’s birthday or your wedding anniversary though. As the Wombles put it so succinctly, it’s “the things that the everyday folk leave behind” that offer us an intriguing glimpse into the ways our memories work – or don’t, as the case may be.

Our brains are fallible. Quite ridiculously so at times. Losing your house keys, forgetting your phone, misplacing your glasses, the disappearance of the remote control – these are all everyday things that happen to us all at some point in our lives (although I’d bet you’ve never managed to lock yourself in your flat due to sheer stupidity. I have. The locksmith was highly amused, and I went round singing Vic and Bob’s ‘Trapped In My Flat’ for the rest of the day).

But some people forget the oddest things. Over the years I’ve posted quite a lot on the subject of the weirder side of lost property – bizarre items left on various forms of public transport or in hotel rooms by forgetful customers – and it never ceases to surprise and amaze me what kind of things people actually leave behind in public places.

Everything from wedding dresses, live tortoises, a bag of haggis. a casket of human ashes, and an inflatable dinosaur (yay!), to a gas mask, a framed photo of Mary Berry, a pair of breast implants, a stuffed puffer fish, and a hamster have been turned into various lost property offices in recent years. It really makes me wonder how such oblivious souls got some of these things on the train/bus/tube/into a hotel room in the first place, let alone forgot them!

Indeed, I still worry sometimes about the life-size Dalek someone once left abandoned in a hotel room after checking out – is the poor thing alright? Did anyone ever come back to claim it? Where did it go? Were there stairs involved? And how the hell do you forget a life-size Dalek in the first place? Such weird items of lost property leave me with so many questions (which is probably why I keep returning to the subject!).

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“It’s all part of my Autumn Almanac…”

Autumn has officially arrived, and with it comes another season of having this glorious slice of perfectly-formed pop genius permenantly stuck in my head. Deliciously British and very distinctly Kinkish, you can immediately hear how the influence of this song and this band are still an integral part of modern music. Open all the windows to the Autumn sunshine and crank the volume high….

A Small Celebration of Yorkshire Day

Today is Yorkshire Day, an annual celebration of all things connected to God’s Own County, as it is affectionately known. Although I am a Londoner born and bred, I know that a great number of my ancestors came from the West Riding of Yorkshire, and I still have links to that part of the world. So, to celebrate Yorkshire Day, I went on a hunt for something interesting to share with you all – and I found this intriguing photograph.

Taken somewhere between 1898 and 1902, this image shows Park Row in Leeds city centre (now part of the city’s financial district). It is a moment in time on a fairly busy street, showing many Leeds residents going about their everyday lives. They all seem to be ignoring the photographer… except for the group of boys in the foreground, who have stopped with their handcart by an ornate lamp-post to watch in fascination as the picture is taken.

Even as late as the turn of the 20th century, the sight of a photographer and all his kit can’t have been a common one for such working-class lads, and it’s obvious that they’re highly curious and seem to want to get in on the action! Perhaps it is my imagination, but are one or two of them posing for the camera? One also wonders if they ever got to see the finished article – or even knew that they played a small part in the history of Leeds and of Yorkshire.

VOTE!

We’re voting for the future of our society and public services here. Do you really want to see the Tories continuing their reckless destruction of all the things that are important to us as British people? This is about all of us, the many and not the few. It’s easily the most important election for many years; please get out there and vote and we might see the right result for everybody…

You still have time to cast your vote – the polling stations are open until 10pm tonight (and you never know, you might see some cool dogs!)

I’ve voted. Have you?