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Common Person (Another Life, Another Playlist)

If anyone read my ‘Part Time Punks’ blog you’ll know the plan was to create a playlist to celebrate fifty years on this thing called Earth. Well here it is. It’s hard knowing what to write by way of accompaniment. Perhaps I should just let the music wash over you? There is no raison d’etre. It starts and ends with tracks that incorporate spoken word. Fifty tracks in total. I could create another next month and it end up completely different. The only thing I wanted was for it to gel as a mix and not be a schooling or arch. The corresponding one I did for the my brother ended in 1982 so these on the whole are from that point onwards.

I always state that my musical tastes didn’t stray much beyond the charts until I went to college. I’m not sure why it changed at that point other than Madchester becoming huge post acid house. You forget that we were still pre-internet. I bought so many albums around that time simply because I loved the look of their sleeves. Often it was all we had to go on. Before anyone comes at me I never diss pop music. Chart music around that time meant a diet of OMD, Bananarama, Altered Images and Bronski Beat. So all was good. My teenage ears lived for synthesised beats. We’ll gloss over all that Stock, Aching and Wankerman slickness.

As a teen in the Eighties there was this programme which was a go to watch if you wanted to know what was hip and happening: ‘The Chart Show’. There’d be a chart run down of promo videos but they also focused on one specialist chart which rotated week by week: dance, indie or rock. I’ve never had much time for poodle permed heavy metal. Bands with hair and not much else apart from licks. When it came to dance the programme would often spotlight these cool sounds coming over from America – early hip hop and house music. I can remember buying ‘Let’s Get Brutal’ at Reidys in Blackburn. Loving ‘Paid In Full’. Just being mesmerised. Where were the verses and the chorus?

One thing I can’t explain is why I went all the way to Blackburn? There were plenty independent record shops closer to where I lived. The only time I’d ever go to Blackburn is when my mum would drag me to Tommy Ball’s shoe warehouse. It did exactly what it said on the tin. Countless piles of cheap shoes that would otherwise end up in landfill. If you were lucky the left and right would be tied together with a piece of string, If you weren’t you’d spend hours trying to find a matching pair. You also have to factor in that we never went shopping as gang of kids. There wasn’t that consumerist / coffee shop culture. When I’ve written about it in the past I put ‘Blackburn’ down to the birth of my adventurous side. It’s more likely that I heard they had it in stock. I didn’t realise that other shops would as well!

So yeah the biggest influence on my taste in music is my brother. We both danced around to punk and if the illness hadn’t struck I’m sure this would have continued. We may still have been doing it. The last single I can remember him buying was ABC’s ‘All Of My Heart’ or was that one of mine? I say that because because I’m not sure what my first single was? I seem to remember having Bucks Fizz’s ‘My Camera Never Lies’ and I don’t think he would stoop that low. I on the other hand have never been worried about owing the odd kitsch classic. And I still own plenty! I think some people are just a bit too serious. They search for meaning in every groove.

Sure I’m like plenty people around my age. I snacked on a diet of Suede, Inspiral Carpets and Carter USM. As the years passed these were washed down with Portishead, Massive Attack and The Orb. The downbeats and samples side of things led on to soul and soundtracks. I’ve never cared to limit myself to any kind of sound. Sure I think Motown is king but I’m quite happy listening to dub or death metal. It’s how I feel at the time. I’m drawn to music which makes me want to dance or forget myself. There are many songs I abhor and yet remind me of happy times. Or places. Some close, some a million miles away.

I don’t think there is anything on the playlist that is uber obscure . Most I could play on a loop and not get bored. Will any surprise? – I’m not sure. There is quite a bit of swearing but it is confined to two tracks. If you don’t like words that start with ‘cun’ and ‘fuc’ avoid the Crass and Super Furry Animals. Sorry I forgot there’s Babyshambles as well. Are they reflective of me? – definitely. It ebbs and flows. It makes me thankful that I’ve lived through these years. For the times at the Mud Club and Angels. The college common room. At the Indie Alldayer with friends. For those times with my brother. I soaked it all in, now it’s time for it all to spill out.

My rather unimaginatively titled Andrew N Playlist can be sampled here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kP-8q0Bd0v8&list=PLvoCzugjFh3vKxMjjaaKvN61bSfDvCKJp

SOME BONUS BEATS:

I find ‘best album of all time’ lists extremely tedious or arbitrary. But I did like the idea of each hour having it’s own perfect album. I’m sorry but I don’t function before nine. I also find myself getting grouchy past midnight. ABBA was a last minute switch. I just thought Suicide’s first album may be too much. I guess at least people would know it’s time to get their coats. The Kathryn Williams isn’t the full album in sequence but a playlist. It was the closest I could get.

9-10am – Young Marble Giants – Colossal Youth
10-11am – Kathryn Williams – Little Black Numbers
11am-12pm – Beth Orton – Central Reservation
12-1pm – Tom Tom Club – Tom Tom Club
1-2pm – Bill Nelson’s Red Noise – Sound-on-Sound
2-3pm – Rocket From The Crypt – Scream Dracula Scream
3-4pm – The Adverts – Crossing The Red Sea
4-5pm – The Slits – Return Of The Giant Slits
5-6pm – Human League – Travelogue
6-7pm – Chic – Chic
7-8pm – New Order – Technique
8-9pm – Primal Scream – Screamadelica
9-10pm – Air – Moon Safari
10-11pm – Burial – Burial
11pm-12am – ABBA – The Visitors

Through the wee small hours –

Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92
LTJ Bukem – LTK Bukem Presents Earth
Goldie – Timeless
Roni Size – New Forms
The Orb – Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld

For Barbara And All Our Female Figures

I saw the #notallmen hashtag trend last night. I didn’t entertain clicking as I knew it would be tedious and grim. I’m not really that interested in saying any more. I always say I am not a feminist. I mean that in the sense that I will not give birth, be felt of only as sexually object or live in fear because I have a vagina. So what can I do as a man? – I made a decision early on that I should write about the women I knew. Those who were neglected. My mum and her friends, my aunties, my dinner ladies and, on this occasion, that frail lady who lived next door to me. Barbara died two years ago now. This is the piece I wrote back in 2016 on the day she moved to be closer to her family. Oct 2021 SAN

I’ve spoken about my neighbour Barbara before; only once around the time of her husband’s funeral. I spoke of a family who were brought up to believe they could be whoever they wanted to be. Whatever choices they made and paths they took they would be loved unconditionally. I spoke of a marriage of fifty years; togetherness and a sudden separation. I spoke of loss and uncertainty. I spoke of hope. Isolation must be terrible thing. I live by myself but it’s not a lifestyle choice or conscious mad desire to stay this way forever. And for all my backwardness I do venture out and do that thing they call ‘socialising’ even if it kills me sometimes. This particular Friday was just an ordinary day until she saw me coming back home and beckoned me in to tell me her news.

Before I go any further I guess I need to add some background. The dementia awareness training explains the condition in an illuminating way. It asks you to imagine a person’s memories as books on a badly fitted bookcase which is being shaken rigorously. The bottom aged memories of childhood staying put as are most of the mid terms ones of growing up, getting married and living but the newest ones, the present, are falling all over the place as the shelves collapse. Do I have a doctor’s appointment this week? Feeling frustrated at not recalling. Feeling scared. Can I cope? Barbara struggles with her memory. I don’t want to describe it any more than that. There may be a clinical diagnosis but that isn’t the point. Barbara still has hopes and dreams. Barbara is still quick witted and loves with a passion. Barbara is Barbara. Always was, always will be. I feel like I’ve known Barbara forever. It makes me feel happy thinking of her.

“I’m moving into a flat to be closer to my daughter”.  It was definitely a shock for me at the time. We compare our heights by standing next to each other back to back and wonder whether I’m growing or she’s shrinking. We’ve always done this whenever I’ve walked in. We laugh a familiar laugh. But as my mum used to say I can see that she is moidered. All these years in the same house, all the good times, set to disappear. It seems a bit glib to say anything profound at all but I try to allay her fears. We talk of her being closer to family and that it’s a lovely part of the country over in York. I talk of new possibilities and adventures. Barbara reminds me that she is well in her eighties not her twenties and that new adventures may not be what she wants. Once of a day maybe. We laugh again. We both know it’s for the best but wish there was another way. She had begun the unenviable task of deciding what she wants to take with her. Things that matter. Keepsakes. For my part I set about writing a farewell note offering a little reassurance.

“Unlike the card I didn’t really want to start with “sorry you’re leaving” as that seems final or pretty sad. Perhaps it is in some ways. I’ve only been your neighbour for a few years but we seem to have known each other forever. I can remember you being in the congregation at Holy Trinity when I was young timid boy serving on the altar. I’ll certainly miss our side-by-side height checks. I’m sure it’s me who’s just had a growing spurt and you’ll catch me up! You always seem to have been there with a friendly smile. I’ll miss that the most. But won’t it be brilliant to be closer to the ones who love you dearly? Not so much a new adventure but  a chance to remain independent. And trust me everything will be fine. I’m sure your home has a lot of memories but i’m equally sure your new flat will be wonderful, homely and a place you’ll love. Like I say this isn’t the end. My address and phone number are above and I’m always around whenever you fancy a chat. To catch up about Brierfield. All that’s left to say is that I hope you’re soon settled, making new friends and feeling happy. I’m sure you will be.”

It’s hard getting that balance. A poignant but optimistic air. Nothing too mawkish. Maybe I need to remind myself that it’s a leaving note and not some clichéd inspirational quote. If my mum was anything to go by writing something, anything, was enough and meant the world.

There was never going to be an easy way but I bobbed round at tea time the day after to pass on my best wishes. The spaces were alien and sad. Faded wallpaper where countless photographs had been and neatly packed boxes. A long life temporarily in storage. I sit down with her and her daughters and chat. It’s a mixture of good humour, mutual affection and reminiscing. They ask if she wants to read the note. She tries but then quickly puts it down. She says she’ll read it when she has more time. When she is by herself. Her daughter Phillippa asks if they can have a photo of the two of us together. I put my arm round her and we smile. I apologise and tell her that I’ll have to leave in a bit and head off up Colne. She reminds us that that’s where she was born many moons ago. I make some remark about it going through a lot of changes and that it’s now a place on the up. Phillippa comments that it probably started on the day her mum left. We laugh. I give her one last hug and tell her everything is going to be alright. I feel as though we need that mantra on a loop. Not inane prattle but like a soothing lullaby.

Bits of furniture remain but the house is now empty. I watched her son helping her into the car but wasn’t sure if they were coming back. They didn’t return. In many ways I figured that was for the best. We’ve said all we wanted to so what else is there? No tearful goodbyes. No orchestrated waving. Just quietly driving off without a fuss. Maybe daunting at first and definitely strange for the both of us. I’ve never had much to offer. Just company and the odd slice of home baked cake every now and again. I can remember talking to a friend of her’s who told me that it’s not so much the living alone she struggled with more the filling of hours with stuff to do. Killing boredom if you will especially as you become less and less mobile. Days or even weeks where you may not see a solitary soul. Praying for the interruptions you used to hate with a passion. I never felt this at the time but I’m so glad I was that to them. Just someone who found time to break up their day.

Communique #9 : So What Is Art? (09 2021)

This month’s piece was actually meant to have been the third one in the series but you know how it is – other things seemed to be more prescient at the time. If anything though it works better now post UCLan’s 2021 Degree Show with a slight update. Two things I guess. I have no interest whatsoever is critiquing that exhibition. It isn’t a fear of being negative more that I’d find it tiresome. Hitting every beat. I also have no interest in proving The White Pube right or wrong. In the piece I talk about why I turned to mark making. It is true what I say but there was also a degree of trying to counteract the starkness of my nude torso. That’s a separate discussion in itself and perhaps best left for another time SAN Sept 2021

THE DISCUSSION PIECE –Art? My Five Year Old Could Do That’

So what is art? Is it like life itself, a constant search to discover who and where we are? Does it give a voice to the voiceless? Is it just marks on a bit of paper? Is it but vanity? I’m reminded of what art critic duo ‘The White Pube’ said in the past about female artists, specifically young and white, putting themselves at the centre of their work. Before anyone comes at me that’s their emphasis not mine. How this work often felt vacuous and pandered to a pornographic gaze. They were trying to get across this idea of privilege. You can say pretty much anything you want and yet you want to be passive. Appearing as an object or a thing of beauty for likes. If I was to play devil’s advocate though I don’t know whether there’s a need for a stylistic gatekeeper. Only letting stuff through if it has tangible meaning or been socially engaged to within an inch of its life.

Another ‘controversial’ thing they’ve done is review degree shows. They’ve received a lot of flak for this but they see it as a way of showing how much new artists are influenced by art world trends. Their colours and the use of certain material or themes. The counter argument from the art departments is often to say that they are reviewing the work of people who are just starting out on their careers. They should be supportive and not hyper critical. It’s an interesting argument and you may have your own thoughts? How do you feel having your work reviewed or on display? I’m writing this the day after visiting UCLan’s MA Fine Art Degree Show. Do my thoughts on the art produced matter? Whether I thought it was derivative or not? Or the fact that I felt like a giddy fool inside Valerie Shemilt’s installation. Transported to another time and place. Overcome by the detail.

So does it help to be critiqued? My first zine review was the one I learnt most from even though it was perhaps not the reaction I was expecting. Trust me I know the nudity in my work will be questionable in some quarters. I question it myself – is what I produce really what I’m trying to say? There needs to something more than provocation. Anyway, the person emailed me their review but said that they wouldn’t post it online. It wasn’t that they hated my zine more that they felt their past experiences in shitty relationships were influencing them too much. It made me realise that we never release art into a vacuum. I cannot govern how my work is seen nor should I want to. All I can do is create. Sure have a duty of care and look to take things on board. Go in different directions. At the end of the day though it should be my choice not just a case of appeasement.

I always figured I would include a mark making session as part of Communique. It’s got this bad rep as being exploitative but I’ll let others discuss its validity. For me it came from wanting to explore the idea of the marks on our bodies and the marks our bodies make. On surfaces. On other animate things. On hearts and minds. On the world. Sometimes it doesn’t work but I still like the randomness. And above all else it’s fun and messy. I enjoy the lack of vision. This set combines the two sessions I’ve done this year; one in March and the other at the end of July. It includes experiments, process and final image / product. At the end of the day I feel you should see it and make up your own mind. I’m now planning to do a large scale one directly on to a wall in my back bedroom. If nothing else it’ll prompt me to paint the place. Something I’ve been putting off for years.

Your key themes: impressions, the eye of the beholder and “what is art to me?” When it comes to criticism I recall the famous Miranda Sawyer quote. To paraphrase: what can you actually say about a piece of work only that it’s fine if you like that kind of thing? Everything in addition is just flannel.

THE FREE WRITTEN PIECE – ‘The Time Of Fine Porcelain And Tastelessness’

Many would call my dad a hoarder
He could think of nothing better than entering Word Search competitions for a chance of winning something he would never use
Women’s curlers, fondue sets and rotisseries were left behind when he died
There stacked with recipe books for microwave dinners
I think it was his psyche’s flipside
He started as a policeman and then worked for Social Services
He dealt with order and straight edges
Away from this life he desired flamboyance
He desired garish and exotica
He desired cuddly toys which squealed ‘I Love You’ when squeezed
I’ll never forget that wall when you walked in his flat
It was almost as though someone had asked for both random and tacky
There was a pair of novelty pink plastic ‘love handcuffs’ (I never asked why)
There was a photograph of him and his wife at a holiday camp posed with some poor soul dressed in a badly fitting bear costume
There was fine if rather cutesy Limoges and a Pendle landscape
There was some dubious playmate calendar onto which he added all his hospital appointments
In the corner there was a strand of tinsel that nobody could reach
It baffled us how it actually got up there
I guess at least he had a bit of Christmas all year round
My dad didn’t follow trends he just picked up stuff he liked
A lot of it came from trips to the seaside
From those neon fronted arcades on the front where most things cost a pound
From arcades brimming with candy floss and saucy postcards
I don’t think the objects on the wall mattered for what they were
It was the story behind them
He picked that up on the first time they stayed together
That one in the same year he had her name crudely tattooed on his arm
They were his life told through kitsch kissed ephemera
But what is kitsch more than nostalgia fed through a kaleidoscope?
Perhaps life is nothing more than constantly rearranging things?
Placing things close to each other and then moving them apart
Seeing how we feel
Does pink ever go with blue?
Nearly all of my dad’s belonging have now gone
I didn’t have the attachment or desire to keep hold
They would just be boxed away if I took them which felt a shame
I took them to a local charity shop hoping the cycle would start again
Someone picking up a little piece of him to brighten their world
Sure they wouldn’t know it’s history and only see it for what it was
Something of nothing that made them smile
Maybe something that reminded them of growing up
Or of dreamlike times which may never have existed

A longer free form version of this piece originally appeared in Haus-A-Rest’s ‘Kitsch Issue. Many thanks to Jenna and Nichola for the opportunity and continued support.

THE IMAGERY- Selected Mark Make Imagery March – July 2021

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Part Time Punks (A Life, A Playlist)

It’s hard knowing what to write by way of an introduction here. This blog actually sprung from putting together fifty tracks that spanned my life. Not my favourites necessarily just tracks that seemed to resonate – that playlist will come in November. I then thought if I’m doing one for me perhaps I should cast my gaze on my brother as well. I’m not going to go into any great detail because I’ve written about him a million times before but… He developed MS in his mid twenties. I say developed but I’m not sure if it’s something that lies dormant and then comes on? I’m not a medic. It wasn’t some consequence of poor lifestyle. He kept having blackouts when he was out drinking, got misdiagnosed with depression and was told to man up because it was all in his head. I think by the time he needed a wheelchair to get around they knew they may have to reconsider.

I confessed to a friend recently that I’m not sure how long he had the illness. It’s not something you mark in your diary is it?: John diagnosed today, weather overcast. I’d say he had it for the best part of the Eighties. It stopped everything; his speech and the ability to move. It stopped him settling down and having a family if he wanted that in the first place. It eventually stopped him going out and that’s probably why these tracks end abruptly in the mid eighties. He still loved music but seven inch wise the curtain closed with the gold lame style of ABC and the futuristic dark synths of Visage. My mum tried to get him to listen to Foster and Allen as though he hadn’t suffered enough. She thought it was wholesome and that would help his condition. That said I will admit that their version of ‘The Mountains Of Mourne’ is beautiful.

The tracks start in the late sixties when he had just started high school I guess. They start with Cat Stevens’ ‘Matthew & Son’ and end with The Jam’s ‘Smithers Jones’. I wanted that symmetry.  The endless grind of the work day repeating. Hoping for promotion but getting nowhere, and then being screwed over. I often state that John loved the energy of punk rather than the scene as nihilistic statement. I don’t want to put words into his mouth all these years later but if I had to guess his favourite album I’d say ‘Inflammable Material’. To be in the crowd at The King George’s Hall listening to SLF or The Stranglers would be heaven. Punk was a means to forget about the drudgery for a while. To forget about the greyness and working in the factory. He turned twenty two in seventy seven. I think it made him feel young and alive.

A few words about the selections. Although I didn’t want my tastes to influence there are a few tracks which I chose because they fitted better tonally. I love The Damned as much as the next man and ‘Strawberries’ is a really underrated album. ‘Life Goes On’ seemed to be quite fitting though on another day it could have been something like ‘I Just Can’t Be Happy Today’. Similarly ‘Don’t Bring Harry’ off The Stranglers’ ‘The Raven’ seemed to have a lilting quality you certainly don’t get from their earlier snarl on ‘Ugly’. I went for The Clash’s ‘Stay Free’ again more for the lyrics.  And is there anything I need to say about ‘In A Rut’ by The Ruts? The best A and B side ever? Or does that go to SLF’s ‘Alternative Ulster / 78 RPM’? I like to feel it ebbs and flows. Starts quietly and ends with rage. Anyway, I don’t want to labour things further and drift off into hyperbole. Let’s stop before the crackle and closed groove.

I’m not sure if John had any sentimental tracks that reminded him of people or places? When he went to Lourdes on pilgrimage to see if the grotto’s freezing waters would cure him he always made friends with the volunteer staff. I will always remember two nurses called Lydia and Jane visiting pretty regularly to see how he was coping. He ended up giving away his single of Dean Friedman’s ‘Lydia’. Maybe I should trace her and see if she still has it? Or what became of them? ‘Seventeen’ by Dolphin is a real curio – don’t believe anyone who says they remember them. It was a record he won as a booby prize at the fun fair on Fulledge Rec in Burnley – I guess it has a slight on trend yacht rock vibe? I remember it more because me and him went with his girlfriend at the time. Her name escapes me. She is the only one of his girlfriends that I remember. Maybe she was the only one?

There’s a lot I don’t remember about my brother. Perhaps that’s only natural thirty years after his death? l do love learning more about him through his friends. In the photos they post online and what they tell me. But, like with my dad, I have no real desire to map out who he really was. I don’t know what John would have become or what he wanted out of life. Does anyone? Perhaps these are just tracks? Music I absorbed from off of him. On days when our mum was out and we put those charged records on the turntable. Danced around pogoing in our front room acting like part time punks. Or earlier on when we listened to Genesis’ ‘Harold The Barrel’ and laughed at the “take a running jump” scream ending. It may have a been life cut short but there are so many stories I could tell. Of him and us. Some sad but many that make me smile. That remind me of our time together. Just two boys in the middle of nowhere.

For John, my brother: 9th August 1957 – 5th March 1990 Listen here: John N Playlist

Roadmap Four: On Noise and Silence

I’ve touched on this before but if I had to look back on my school reports one word would stand out. ‘Unassuming’. I went merrily through my life thinking that was a good thing. I wasn’t the sort the person who’d try to skewer the pigtailed girl on the front row by chucking a compass. I’d sit there quietly. Sometimes with my arms folded. It wasn’t until decades later when I was chatting to a colleague that this bubble was burst. We were talking about our schooldays and I mentioned that this word always kept cropping up, almost like a label. They said that perhaps ‘unassuming’ was teacher shorthand for ‘sits there gormlessly without saying anything’. This was so true. I was the sort of kid who’d readily believe everything they said. The moon revolves the earth – fine, let’s move on. I didn’t think to ask why or whether it will ever stop.

I wouldn’t say that my childhood was blissful, it just happened. I don’t inanely look back and say they were the best years of my life. However they probably do inform a lot of my adult behaviour as direct reaction. I used to hate talking about myself but now I am more relaxed. If someone asks I take it as a sign that they are interested in what I create. It’s a natural urge not an interrogation. I think my initial reticence came from how talking was framed in English lessons back at school: it was all about what excites you or what you enjoy doing. It was all about ambition and happiness. As a born apathetic soul this was so strange. I also got bogged down with wondering what would interest other people. Nowadays I just jump straight in. I don’t say that in a reckless way – I don’t lose sight of what is right and wrong. I’ve just learned that candid is king. And so is darkness I guess. If I feel it is part of me it gets written down.

Anyone who has read my zines and blog will know that I often talk about my brother John. How he developed multiple sclerosis in his early twenties and became confined to a wheelchair. How the illness took him and then his life. Sometimes I think it’s easy to forget how much of what we do is automatic. How our lives are a series of reflexes. Or is that too simplistic? I’m not sure which ability he lost first? Walking? Swallowing? Talking? How speech therapy turned into looking into alternative methods of communication. How his shaking stopped him using most keyboards. How pointing at letters turned into silence. After that it just came down to instinct and empathy. Not thinking for him but asking what we’d want in this situation. He’s safe but what more could he need? To watch crappy daytime TV? To listen to The Clash? To be left alone?

I’ve always found it interesting examining John Cage’s composition ‘4’33’. How people scoffed at a piece of orchestration that was ‘just’ silence. First up is it’s length. We are used to one and two minutes silence in times of mourning. When we feel it’s justified. For war heroes and untimely deaths. How long a wait before silence becomes uncomfortable or threatening? I’m not sure if it’s as a result of life with my brother but it’s never bothered me. That absence of words. I do know that other people struggle. They need to make polite conversation. John Cage’s point was obviously that there is no such thing as silence; something always fills the void. People are prone to fidget and cough. I’m typing this in relative quiet but I can hear my fingers on the keys, the computer’s fan and the muffled sound of cars driving past. There’s an air of hum which I’m putting down to my tinnitus and not my neighbour’s lawnmower. If I switch everything off I’m sure I would hear my heart beat,

There are times where I enjoy silence. There are times I prefer to have some sound on in the background. It isn’t fixed. I’ve always been drawn to the motorik sound of Krautrock. That wave of throb. Those times at gigs when the music is so loud you can feel the reverb pound into your internal organs. There are times when noise consumes everything. I always struggle to read and listen to music at the same time. It’s almost as though my eyes cannot cope with the distraction. I wouldn’t say that silence is something that I actively seek out. Or that I need for cathartic rebirth. Let’s face it Mindfulness is nothing without meaning. I’m not sure if this is a good thing but I often associate silence with prayer. With offering things up to God. With incense. Silence or parroting things that I didn’t really understand. Or when it comes to the home; misbehaving, being scolded and sent to my room. Silence as atonement for my sins.

I guess it comes down to choice. We associate silence with solitary confinement. The change of behaviour that comes from being left with our thoughts. My brother had no say in the matter. I can change things by the press of a button. I can block out the natural world. Silence is something we do to protest. Silence is something we get sponsored for; one pound for each minute of compliance. Sometimes silence is all we have. Silence is something that comes at the end of the day when everything is done. When everyone is going to sleep. Silence is more positive than noise? Silence equals regret or death. Noise is about disturbance or breaking someone down. Noise is indistinguishable. Just a hubbub there at the other end of the spectrum. Noise is what comes when people collide. When we realise we are incompatible. Noise is the language of strangers. Noise in the form of screams appears when all hope is gone.

Epilogue: This seemed to jar as part of the main piece but one of the most powerful films I’ve seen is ‘Tribe’. The story takes place in a Russian boarding school for deaf children. With no subtitles and a dialogue entirely in sign language it could be quite alienating. Despite the brutality it is such a poetic film. How it’s possible to understand everything that going on without words. How it draws you in. How the slaps as they move their hands, which break the silence, become almost hypnotic.

I think it’s a similar thing with music. I realise that there is a subtle distinction there. Music can be abrasive and abstract at times. And confrontational, see Suicide’s ’23 Minutes Over Brussels’. However it does tend to be about being transported away rather than someone inflicting pain. This track came to mind over things like MBV, Sigur Ros and Throbbing Gristle. I’m imaging a post apocalyptic world where everything has gone. We’ve destroyed ourselves or the machines have. I’m not sure what sounds if any will remain?

Ben Frost – ‘Theory Of Machines‘.

Written as part of Amy Tempest’s Roadmap creative prompt series over one day in April. Prompt Four: ‘Noise/Silence’.

What Is A Zine? Whatever You Feel It Is.

I felt now would be a good time to provide an update on all things zine in my world. It wasn’t sparked by Moxie but by going through my photo archives to see which images I hadn’t used. And deleting a few torso shots that I’d missed. In the past I’ve tended to delete these images once they had been issued. As part of the process but also because I didn’t want to feel the urge to create anniversary editions at a later date. I wanted permanence once they’d come off the photocopier. I was also struck that I’ve actually traded all of my available items. I think I worked out that I’ve created around one hundred and fifty issues. You can file me under ‘pretty prolific’. I love the fact that they are held by people all over the world.

When I started my ‘Torso’ zine there was a lot of fumbling around in the dark. What exactly do I want to focus on? How abstract / out there do I want to be? Will people be okay with the nudity? Although I’d created a zine before, this project started in earnest after going to a craft session which was mainly attended by disadvantaged teenagers. We all created a basic zine template and apart from the compilations I’ve never changed the style. Recently I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned along the way. There is no doubt here that I will probably contradict myself within the first few statements. But if you want to know how I made it slightly up from the bottom of the zine heap then read on. I kidding there. Most people have still never heard of me!

I’m pretty useless at explaining how to make a zine but there is an excellent piece on Creative Independent here

Know your audience: Most ‘how to zine’ guides say that your zine’s subject should be something that has broad appeal. I’d just like to put on record that that’s bollocks. Well okay it really depends on what your ‘model’ is. I know my zine cost nothing to produce unless I put a value on my creativity ergo I like it be free where possible. And before anyone says that isn’t me underselling my worth. Although I have created for many a zine fair I wouldn’t entertain tabling at one. Mainly because I know that some people may have reservations about my imagery. I really don’t need the hassle and I don’t want anyone to feel awkward or be triggered.

My ‘readers’ have nearly always come to me or I’ve made an assumption. When I started out I used to pounce when people liked my Instagram posts. It was an easy way in and it kind of took away a bit of the ‘well they won’t be expecting this’. Now don’t get me wrong I always give warning. I also leave it up to the zine library to decide how they feel best to catalogue. I’m just a bit more ‘this is how it is’ nowadays. I’m not looking to win hearts and minds or make them see men differently. There’s now a lot more experimentation rather than sticking to a body positive message. I’m not saying that’s a good thing it was just the way it went. Somewhat organic. Somewhat when I hit brick walls. Changing along the way as I became more in tune.

What do you want to say? – There’s nothing wrong with freestyle or silly but most of the zines I love are those where people talk about making sense of themselves. This doesn’t have to be navel gazing or full of self loathing. That said, never forget rule number one of zine club: want to create a zine? – then just go for it! Last year I read a zine called ‘Barcelona 2013’ as part of the Salford Zine Library cataloguing exercise. To say it’s a travelogue is perhaps underplaying how great it is. It’s about discovery. It’s about the heady rush of new romance; two girls in love. It’s about acceptance and loss. It’s about not knowing where you’re going but not really caring. It made me wonder what happened next to the two of them.

Having nothing obviously ‘political’ / forthright to say shouldn’t be a barrier. I’m hoping to review a few zines over the coming months and there won’t be a diatribe in sight. I haven’t decide what these will be – I do know a couple: Warglitter’s ‘Lovercase’ and Rabbit In Bloom’s ‘Tinderness’. If you want me to review yours give us a shout though it won’t be a straight “I like this *insert heart emoji*” affair. I will in time look to writing about other things. I often joke that I will stop once I’ve created a zine about Bananarama’s first two albums. There is no up from there! It’s just that I know I’ll be able to talk about the power of pop, growing up and sexual awakening. The chaos and harshness of the Eighties heard in the opening lines to Rough Justice: “The young don’t grow up / Well not in this life / Big mouths and money / Win every time”.

Do you really want to be a capitalist whore? – Most ‘models’ say that you should sell for three times what it costs to produce. I’d add a couple of caveats there – there’s probably a ceiling to what someone is willing to pay if it’s a standard b&w repro. Admittedly some people will pay more for exclusivity. Or if you have included merch like badges or patches. I can remember watching a doc on DIY publication which was interesting but I was struck by one comment where they said that their print run was one thousand copies. Now I understand it was about creating enough money for them to carry on for the next year or so but that’s almost legit publishing territory. The most I’ve ever done of mine is twenty and that was only because I thought the first batch had gone missing. Maybe I’m not ambitious enough?

I think you learn over time how many you are likely to sell. And that number increases as you become known. But before you pick up a pen in anger you need to ask a few questions: is your zine a one off or do you see it as a series? If so do you have enough content or know where you are going to take it? Is it something you’ll be doing on your own? How are going to print and distribute? All of those questions will have a bearing on how you go about putting it together. You may feel it’s easier to submit to another person’s zine rather than create your own? For me it’s always been a combination. There have been times when what I’ve wanted to say didn’t really fit in with my zines so I submitted it to other people’s. It’s freeing in many ways.

So what comes next?: Well I would still like to get a Lancashire LGBT zine off the ground and perhaps a zine focusing on the societal and environmental issues here in Pendle. The problem I have here is that it is very much reliant on the passion of other people. I am doing a call and response type project at moment. This will probably turn into one main zine and a separate one where me a friend will write about family, the different societies we live in, grunge and the apocalypse. Yes really and no, not in any particular order. I just wanted to create a zine about connection and how we lose touch. Do we still have the same friends since the internet has come along? Where did our old friends go?

This weekend I am going to make a start on cataloguing the zines I own. I’ve mentioned this before but the ultimate goal is for these to form part of Burnley Zine Library. Hence why I’m keen to get them in order and then do a micro review. Be honest and empathetic. Talk about how they make me feel. I sort of agree with the idea that you don’t particular need to be au fait with the subject matter. It’s about the writer themselves. How they draw you in. Their creativity and what they are willing to reveal. It’s about experiencing other people’s lives. In a world of fake news and conspiracy it’s also about showing the truth. Seeing who believes and wants to join you on your journey.

My zine ‘A Year Of Solitude’ will officially be available when I can sort out a print. I’m hoping to create a zine for July’s IZM and ‘Circa 2021’ when I turn fifty in November. A fifty year old male zinester? Who would have thought it!? Long live the old breed. You can read more about me in Weirdo Brigade’s interview here.

The Light Before Lockdown

This blog is one bit of my response to Claire Warmsley Griffiths’ ‘The Light Before Lockdown’ project prompt. It was written over two days: 30th Nov and 1st Dec. I don’t think there’s a need to know the questions she asked mainly because I’ve only skirted on them. When I think of postcards I always think of my step mum. When I think of her I think of my mum and the understandable animosity between them. How they once fought in the chemists on Arthur St. I think that was the first time I saw my mum’s fury. Her violent tears. Despite that I always find some warmth when looking back. I wonder how we’ll look back on the year just gone? Are there things that we’ll remember other than the pandemic? AN Dec 2020

There’s a box upstairs which is full of postcards that were sent to my step mum. They run from the late forties to the early sixties. They are mainly from her husband at the time. I don’t know anything about him if I’m honest except that he loved motorbikes. I’m assuming he used to travel with work as they are from all over the UK. What I find interesting, apart from the affection between them, is that they are sometimes from places that you wouldn’t expect. Dead end towns. Places you wouldn’t expect to have postcards. As I write that I realise it’s quite a dismissive thing to say. It’s not meant to be. If anything the postcard is the perfect medium for our thoughts. There is only a certain amount of space. And we nearly always slip into hopeful mode.

It was this wistfulness I tried to embrace looking back on 2020. Now okay I know that it’s impossible to ignore the pandemic and trust me I won’t. I think things stopped for me when the call to work from home came. It threw things into the air. I’m a strange person. Socialising kills me sometimes, it’s in listening to the lives I others I know I’m so different, but through interactions come the ideas. Sometimes it’s just a phrase I take. Sometimes it’s twisting what someone has said completely. Sometimes it’s osmosis. Their lives soak into me and appear as my words. That’s not to say that I don’t have my own story. I just worry sometimes that people want more than the thoughts of a bashful smalltown boy.

So what I have missed during lockdown? I’ve missed rummaging around in charity shops. Flicking through the battered vinyl records to see if I can find anything that will take me back. To those days of Jane Fonda workouts and Pick N Mix. Greenham banners and first kisses. I’ve missed being amused by how many albums Mrs Mills seems to have made. Though I do love the fact that she seems to have been embraced. Was it the variety of the music halls they craved? Did it take them back to a simpler life? I miss the cramp that comes from crouching down too long. A sure sign I’m becoming old. I miss wandering around aimlessly. I miss the dance floor and northern soul. The style of the Indie Couple. I know it will all come back eventually.

The last gig I can remember being at was the ‘Sick Of Being Normal’ punk event. I liked the fact that a bunch of punk descended on a library. I did plan to do a review but the photos I took are still undeveloped in a disposable camera. It felt like the right medium at the time. This idea of not knowing what the end result will be. Struggling to see and not being able to retake. A bit like life itself sometimes. How often do we get the chance to change first impressions? That’s always been the appeal with the photos I take. Showing real life. That’s not to say they can’t be abstract and dreamlike. After all being northern doesn’t have to be about carrying all you own in a Kwik Save carrier.

My step mum took thousands of photos. Most mean nothing to me, some mean everything. My dad’s scarred ‘going out’ face, unable to stop the bleeding post shave. Photos of the cuddly toys she won in the raffle. Toys that became surrogates given pride of place on an armchair in front of the fire. Her photos record moments. How we’d sometimes uncomfortably slow dance to ‘Simply The Best’ at the end of night when, post stroke, my dad became unsteady on his feet. How it would’ve broken my mum’s heart if she found out. Nights out which made me lie. Made me imagine and learn empathy. “What! That cow who took him away from us?!” Thankfully that never came. Life is less complicated now that they have all gone and I find myself alone. Sometimes their shadows come back and I find the need to write. It’s always the same; part nostalgia and part making sense.

My next gig is meant to be in the back room of the Castle Hotel in Manchester. I’ve always liked the crush, sweat and reverb of the place. How will I find it in this new world of ours? The fact that touch has become fearful. Will I even go? I think it will be taken out of my hands. Who wants to be the first band to kill someone? I’ll miss walking through the neon city with ears ringing. Feeling in the moment. Feeling glad to be alive. I’ll miss the bus drive over through impossibly beautiful countryside so different to the concrete here. Villages like ‘Loveclough’ – even their names seem magical. I’ll miss checking into a cheap budget hotel and the twenty four hour a day ambulance sirens. I’ll miss wondering whether I’m going to survive the night. And then not really caring.

And what else? I’ve never been one for the multiplex until I became friends with Christina. I love the fact that we have such different tastes. I enjoy having to be positive about throw away films but even I struggled with the Dumbo remake. She didn’t like it either. I love and have missed being in her company. I see this as a counterpoint to films I now watch online at the Pendle Social Cinema. Films for which the word ‘cerebral’ was invented. Films where people talk in different languages. I like the fact that they are often just as bad as Dumbo. I love the discussion even though I’m the least opinionated person on this planet. The five words that used to make me to have cold sweats?: “how do you feel about..?” I love the fact that I’m comfortable enough to say nothing at times. I love the fact that it makes me comb my hair even though there is no real need. I at least look human on a Thursday night.

It’s hard putting this year into words but it’s been one of connection and not of disappearance. It’s a year where I’ve realised that the outside world doesn’t realise that living on your own is often a preference. That loneliness and being single are two separate things – you think I just sit in a darkened room doing nothing? I love the way that my friend Lyn texted for the first time in a while at the weekend. She’s always been there for me since that time things really did become too much. Is that really twenty years ago? Maybe that’s something for another day? I love the fact that she forgot my birthday. She’ll ring me in a couple of weeks feeling all apologetic. We’ll laugh. I know full well she’ll forget it again next year. I love the fact that this is the last year of my forties. That’s when my life will begin.

Although I create zines and send these around the world I feel the urge to make and write postcards in the new year. Perhaps you’d like to receive one? I’ll tell you more things of home and perhaps ask the odd question of you. Not prying more wanting to know about the light that fills your life. What are you looking forward to? We can talk about our pasts. How as a kid I used to look at the aerial on Graham’s electrical shop and wonder if they were communicating with aliens. How I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been the only boy to think that. How all that is still in me and appears given half the chance. I’ve started to realise that perhaps it’s not what people write that matters just that they found the time. To slow down and take notice. Of themselves, others and what surrounds. To tell us about the weather with them. How their families are growing. Who they are missing. And those adventures that sometimes come along. Little things that seemed to matter before life became wired.

On Openness, Adventure And Nudity

A few years ago I wrote a, now deleted, blog post about the programme ‘The Great British Skinny Dip’. I kind of wanted to talk about nudity in a body positive way but address certain issues. I’ve decided to re-write it. Ask the same question: will it ever be acceptable to appear naked in public or will it always be deemed as obscene? Nov 2020

Channel 4 have done two programmes on naturism that I’m aware of: ‘My Daughter The Teenage Nudist’ (2012) and ‘The Great British Skinny Dip’ (2017). The first one is by far the most interesting. The second one I found bizarre but as a writer it was its ‘what the fuck’ aspect that made me put pen to paper. The story of an organisation trying to entice in new members but caught between two stools. Having to appeal to those who may see naturism to be about openness / healthy lifestyle whilst going for those of a hedonistic bent. ‘This is me’ vs thrill seekers. I pointed out at the time that those two tribes may want completely different things.

I think my reason for deleting the original blog was that I felt it was a bit mean towards British Naturism. Not the organisation per se more what they felt constituted a good time. It was diet of barbecues. It was a diet of visiting tourist attractions off season. It was doing stuff I don’t want to do in the first place but naked. It was very domestic and ordinary. There was no warmth and dare I say it there was very little laughter. Nothing that touched on the absurdity of life. Now okay, I didn’t delve any deeper and other things they put on may appeal more. I think for me personally it comes down to one thing. Appearing naked is cool but not if it’s organised and sold back to me.

I was reminded of all this after watching Hannah Maia’s excellent documentary ‘My Big White Thighs & Me’ at the weekend*. Hannah’s film isn’t about naturism but about the joys and adventure that open swimming brings. However there was a brief scene where Hannah and her friend are shown from the back walking naked into the water. It isn’t explained; it doesn’t need to be. From what has gone before we know it’s about her being comfortable with her body and also with her friend seeing her ‘imperfections’. It’s about having fun whilst feeling liberated. It’s just two friends going for a swim enjoying each other’s company.

The idea behind ‘The Great British Skinny Dip’ was to take a naked swim and try to give it a community appeal. A mass event where families could take part. But, as they found out, you are battling an awful lot of barriers. There will always be a stigma attached to an adult being naked in front of a child. There are an awful lot of folk who don’t feel comfortable looking in a mirror never mind being naked in front of someone else. And then there’s the weather. It’s something I may have done though I’m pretty ambivalent. I’d probably put it in the same bracket as camping. I get the great outdoors aspect but not much more than that. If you fancy trying to convince me you know where I am. We can take the plunge together.

I’ve spoken about this before but I’m pretty sure mainstream views on nudity stem from two things: we equate nudity with shame / sin (Eve in the Garden Of Even) or only see it as a prelude to sex / titillation. We also take too much notice of social media. Touched up bodies. Most of my work features degrees of nudity. Some of my friends have seen my zines, some haven’t. Some think it’s artistic, some think I’m a sexual deviant. I’ve never tried to influence. It wasn’t about keeping it hid in some circles I just had a pretty good idea who would be supportive. I’m proud of what I produce and that’s the main thing. I’ll keep going until my creative energies die. Trying to blur boundaries all the while.

A final thought though: is it better for us to continue having this ‘strange / strained relationship’ with nudity? Baring all is often what we do when we want to make a statement or protest. Or get our fifteen minutes of fame. Pick your oracle: Femen, Victoria Bateman or Erica Roe. Would we just want it to be par for the course? In many ways the programme fell down because so many of the members chose to have their faces pixelated in later scenes. What was sold as wholesome took on a sense of embarrassment. I do not want to be identified. As someone who leads a compartmentalised life I understand that but it appeared seedy. If you’re going to do something then embrace it fully. Do it without compromise**.

After watching Hannah’s documentary I was tempted to take a few more
‘Wild’ photos – it’s been on hiatus for twelve months mainly because I felt I’d said all I wanted. Besides there haven’t been any zine fairs what with the pandemic. These images may just stay as they are and not turned into a zine. Give me a shout if you want the full set. Like her it was a case of slipping and sliding as I went to a place I hadn’t been since childhood. It was cool to just take time out of my working day and have a walk through the woodland. Scrape my skin and get stung by the nettles. Listen to the brook. It made me feel giddy. I like to feel the resulting images are art and not troubling.

* You can watch Hannah’s film here. I wrote a few words about it which can be found on IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/review/rw6299290/?ref_=tt_urv

** I’m being a bit of a hypocrite there as I occasionally obscure my penis and my face. I would say though that I only usually do it when I’m talking about censorship or duality. I will admit though that sometimes it actually looks better that way. Let’s face it penises are ugly!





A Year Of Solitude

I’d always intended to create a follow up to last year’s ‘A Year In The Wilderness’ and at the end of October I finished final edit. This new work is called ‘A Year Of Solitude’. The idea was for it to be quite an insular take. Not to neglect the lush outskirts completely but to give it a more domestic feel. Home is always a difficult thing for me to write about. Home as we stand means being safe from the pandemic. Home in the past was more a place of disillusionment. Now don’t get me wrong my life isn’t that of misery lit. It’s more full of impossible dreams. Wanting to escape but not really having the confidence or means.

I’ve read a lot of commentary on the pandemic. People who say that the cruel climate has made it impossible for them to concentrate. “It takes all my time to survive I cannot contemplate writing / creating art“. I understand that. I attended a talk by the writer Elif Shafak who said that you have to be a sociopath to say that you haven’t been touched in some way. To see the death toll rise but to remain passive. For me it’s been suffocating at times. It was that aspect that I wanted to touch on. How the four walls have closed in. How being in one place made things that I’d usually throw away gather around me. Clothes, cutlery and wrappers becoming flotsam and jetsam. And how my healthy diet took a nose dive.

But conversely how soaking this up became catalyst. In many ways it is also an indication of how comfortable I am now of me as a person. I don’t feel the need to rush out and buy soft furnishings. I don’t feel the need to deny who I am. But that in turn becomes a double edged sword – not needing to moderate to fit in brings with it the darkness. Old wounds start to reappear. The times in my life when the self loathing grew and I didn’t have anyone to talk to. Scrap that, I did but I didn’t feel comfortable approaching anyone. How do you put it into words? Older me can, younger me couldn’t. I guess it comes with experience / world weariness?

The zine mirrors the last one in design and number of pages, thirty six in total. All the images were taken at home or on strolls around my home town bar two. These were taken in Blackburn town centre when I was there for the Kick Down The Barriers exhibition. I wanted to retain the nude imagery of my ‘Torso’ zine though kept very much to a minimum and from a distance. I like to think it adds to the vulnerability. There are two ‘promo’ copies in existence. One a copy of the original template and one a printed off scanned copy. I felt I needed to change one of the images after viewing. I’m all for leaving in mistakes but it was just too saturated.

Above all else I wanted it to be raw. ‘Daughter Of Winter’ is about my fiend’s toxic relationship with their mother. How their mum was cruel because in her eyes their birth had been a hindrance. She wanted to feel free not spend all her time changing dirty nappies. There’s pieces about my stepmum feeling isolated after my dad’s stroke. Him in hospital, her alone. And my thoughts on clearing his house when he died years later. Why do I know so little? My parent’s divorce turned us into strangers. My mum tried to make me see him as the devil incarnate. I was more understanding and she could never forgive me for feeling that way.   

So what does the coming year bring? Well I’m just putting together another issue of the main strand which if memory servers is #24. I can’t see me doing many others but I will definitely do one for IZM and a ‘Circa’ to record how my body looks. I’ve going to make a slight tweak to this account which will allow people to subscribe for bonus content. I turn fifty next year so I’m hoping to do weekly posts starting in the first full week of January. I’ll also be looking to ask people to be part of the selection process for my next book’s imagery. Turn my archive over to other eyes and seeing where that takes me / us. It’d be cool to have have you on board.

‘A Year Of Solitude’ will be available at That 0282 Place (upstairs at Burnley Library) when things get back to normal. Or directly from me, just give us a shout: nicholas563@btinternet.com If you’re one of the people I’m regularly in touch with who live abroad i.e. non UK I’ll make sure you get a copy at some point. 

The People’s Museum

I’m paraphrasing a misremembered quote here. It goes something like this: there are two types of people. Type 1: those who know nothing about history. Type 2: those who know loads about history but spend all their time passively writing about how we never learn from history. This post is about a photo I submitted to KDTB’s Exhibition at Blackburn Museum. My history? It brought with it quite a melancholic feeling. How can I write about an image when I don’t know all that went on? Can I be upbeat about an image when I know the heartache that came later? Oct 2020

It seemed like quite a straight forward request. The artist William Titley has put on an exhibition where the curated items are things sent in by the public. His request: if you had to choose one item which represented you as a person what would it be? A prized possession? Something whimsical or passed down? Something worthless but which means the world to you? I have no idea how museums are usually curated – I often find them staid with too much taxidermy – but William’s vision appealed. This idea of a community expressing who they really are rather than it being a straight, predetermined ‘this is who we think you are’. It’ll be interesting to see if this ends up being more authentic.

So what to submit? That first 7″ has long since traded in for something new. That fancy tie-dye t-shirt that I wore to death at college has been recycled. What do I have other than certificates? I have thousands of photos. When my step mum died I took in her photos that span from her being a young woman in the late 1940s right the way up to her time with my dad. I have my mum’s photos which again show her life and the special occasions. But also sad ones when my brother’s illness came. There is often one thought: who are these people and what happened to them? I often don’t know. Is a photograph anything more than a paused moment? I picked one photograph and wrote down my thoughts:

“Although this polaroid was taken when I was a toddler it wasn’t until I was in my late thirties that I first saw it. It was taken when my grandma visited from Canada – I’m assuming she came to see me as latest addition to the family? It was taken by my Auntie Mary who left most of them with us but took this with her as a keepsake. It is one of the very few photos of all three of us together. It was sent on to me by the guardian who was dealing with her belongings when she died. I don’t recall my grandma coming over again so this would the only time we met. I have many thoughts now: doesn’t my sister look young? Why does it look like my brother is trying to escape the frame? Can you tell from this how we would disintegrate later on? I often wonder that. Can we look at a photograph as a moment in time or is it forever marked by what came next? My parents’ separation. My brother’s illness. For me if differs from image to image but I feel real warmth with this one. I’m just not that sure about my outfit!”

I’m not sure when my auntie Mary emigrated. There are pictures of her here at the illuminations in the late fifties so I’m assuming it was in the early sixties when travel became affordable. I also don’t know what took her away. I know her and her husband worked in nursing so perhaps they answered a call? Canada wants your bedside manner. Maybe they saw more opportunities across the Atlantic than in Barrow-in-Furness where they lived? Maybe they craved somewhere slightly less isolated? I don’t know whether they ever regretted their decision. I know she came back at least twice to visit. Once shortly after I was born in 1971. And once much later during those strange times we lived in fear of the Millennium Bug. We met by accident that time. Maybe that’s a story for another day safe to say that family had become much more complicated by then.

I’d take my mum’s friendship with my auntie as being something that cordially spanned my childhood but then disappeared. I have no idea how often they saw each other before the move. Or if they got on. My distinct memory though is of my mum getting those blue air mail letters from the post office and writing about what had been going on. What I was doing at school. But after I left school what exactly do you say – how many different ways do you say: no he isn’t married yet? Actually I’m not sure when they stopped? I think they kept going post my dad leaving which must have been awkward. Maybe they eventually found they had nothing in common? Or ran out of things to say. Isn’t that often the case?

It’s one of the main reasons why I love creating zines and then doing the snail mail thing of writing an accompanying letter. Sure it’s about friendship but it’s also about understanding and imagining the place where the other person lives – both visually and socially. I haven’t been abroad in years but each time I create and send I get a ‘postcard’ back. It’s somewhere I have travelled. It feels wankish to call it a twinning but it’s like finding a common bond. By sheer fluke I’ve just sent a package to someone who lives in the same place as my auntie did, Oshawa. Now okay it’s probably changed a lot but it feels like I’m connecting with both of them in many ways. I’m excited as to what I will find out.

What I can remember most about my auntie is that she always sent literate presents: a set of Disney encyclopedias when I was younger and then later Pearl S Buck’s Book of Christmas. I also remember her sending a compilation of Dickens’ Christmas novels. It was as though she wanted to encourage me to read. Perhaps this could be you? It’s hard knowing what I think of her as someone I hardy met but I love looking at the older photos of her. Wild hair like young Ellie in the film ‘Up’. They scream I am what I am and don’t give a fuck. When she developed dementia I think it killed my dad in many ways. He found talking to her extremely difficult . As though he’d lost touch with the person she once was. His big sister.

I think in the end I can only describe what I see. Place photographs in their own bubble free from the future. I love this one. My grandma just stood there as though she’s is impervious to what is going on – or is that a smile I see? My sister looking so young and at the centre. Feeling maternal towards me. My brother almost out of shot – is he trying to race off back to his bedroom where Roxy Music await? What with lockdown our hairstyles are almost the same – I have become clone. I cannot remember living in this house on Heyhead St but I often walk past it on the way to the park. It doesn’t bring back memories of the pebbledash, of texture, but of get togethers where we’d reminisce. Take the boxed photographs out of the cupboard and look back. Perhaps take more.

I’m not sure when my grandma died but it was pre my teens. I know that she lived into her nineties but nothing other than that which is sad. My sister became a teacher in a rural village school. After many years living in Italy post retirement she has returned home. I’d tentatively describe her as bohemian. Perhaps free spirited is better? She rocks! I’ve spoken about my brother many times. He developed MS in his early twenties, became confined to a wheelchair and died about ten years later. There’s obviously much more to him than that but this is a blog and not a memoir. So yeah here is an image from much earlier in our lives. Slightly awkward but aren’t they always? It perhaps shows an idyll that never existed. I’m not sure if I have the precise words to describe how it makes me feel. It makes me feel human.

Postscript: a childhood friend recently posted a photograph of us as kids. One of my brother’s friends often does the same – how they used to hang. In many cases I’ve never seen them. They show tribe. There is a sense of belonging. I’ve often wondered if there could be some kind of photo amnesty where we regularly share these memories. Could we create an alternative history from snapshots we thought were lost? At any rate it would be cool to let some more out into the digital world. See what it makes of those hazy days.