Is nostalgia good or bad?

Christmas is over and we have finished celebrating the arrival of a new year. It’s now a time when we can look forward to the wonderful gifts 2018 can bring. We all hope for health and happiness for ourselves and for those we love and we wish for world- wide peace and an end to discrimination, disease and destruction. We consider changes to our lifestyle, wanting to be instrumental in making positive developments. We decide to eat healthier food, join a gym, spend more time outside, and help others. Such plans are admirable: we all know of people who will run a marathon in 2018, land a new job, find the perfect partner, raise money for charity or, simply, be more content with their lives. It doesn’t really matter if it’s January or July, looking forward confidently and with optimism is a good thing.

Yet we spend so much time looking back. Christmas time is a good example. We all love White Christmas, the archetypal festive 1950s film showing how perfect life used to be, and the Irving Berlin song dates back to 1942. We sit around the dining table, reminiscing about previous Christmases, missing people who are no longer with us, and old childhood memories of past years are stirred up and savoured. Many people yearn for aspects of bygone times, when food tasted better, everything was cheaper, we were less focused on commercialism, and people’s lives were less complex and perhaps in some ways happier. I remember as a teenager hearing a woman in her seventies talk about the Second World War with fondness. I was horrified. What about rations, bombs, the sacrificed lives? But she simply looked misty-eyed and said ‘Ah, but you had proper neighbours then. We all looked out for each other.’

I wonder if nostalgia is a bad thing: if we are always looking backwards through rose-coloured glasses, does it prevent us from looking forward clearly and determining our own destiny? But then, there are things we learn from the past. Life experience enables us to make decisions focused on a knowledge of likely outcomes. But the future is ours to determine, so why would we want to hold on to memories which have long gone? Perhaps that is it: like an old photograph, a letter or a school report found at the bottom of a drawer, the pages yellowed and the ink faded, perhaps the past provides us with a soft fuzzy feeling that makes us happy.

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Finding joy in nostalgia is not always easy to achieve. I have returned once or twice to the place I grew up and several times to towns and cities I have lived in. Much has changed and I feel no impetus to relive the past there. Yet I spoke to someone recently who went back to a town they left just over a year ago and they were filled with a sense of having belonged, having grown up there, having developed and become the person they are today against a backdrop which was important, which was in some ways formative. Memories such as those are tangible, important and cannot be taken away.

Music and the media are quick-fire ways to start a nostalgic conversation. Hearing The Clangers theme tune takes me back to childhood. Certain rock songs remind me of adolescent mischief. I know exactly where I was when I heard about The Twin Towers tragedy. Similarly, smells take us back to happy times, whether it is the lavender perfume of Grandma’s handkerchief, the smell of hot dogs at the fairground or the aroma of Mum’s apple pie in the oven, we are transported instantly and memory is picture- clear.

But is nostalgia good for us? A 17th Century medical student first used the term nostalgia for the anxieties displayed by Swiss mercenaries fighting away from home. It was thought of as an illness, caused by demons. The word derives from the Greek nostos (return) and algos (pain), suggesting suffering due to a desire to return to a place of origin. However, modern thinking is that nostalgia makes people feel more socially connected to others.  This social connection boosts people’s positive feelings about themselves.

One of my neighbours has an old Ford Cortina she wants to sell and another neighbour longs to buy it, as it was the first car he drove when he was 18. Of course, he could own a modern car, one which is much easier to drive, more economical, but the idea of owning a defunct banger matters, quite simply, because nostalgia makes people feel good. Nostalgia is not merely for the older generations, either; I have heard twenty year olds wax lyrical about Pokémon, Beyblades, Wispa bars. People are nostalgic because reminiscing makes them feel happy about old times, and it allows us to share common feelings and experiences.

But nostalgia isn’t real, is it? Every time we recall an experience, the memory becomes a little distorted. It can be more positive, more negative; we even have the capacity to change things unintentionally. As time passes, the memory becomes further out of touch with reality and so it is hardly accurate or reliable, especially where emotions are concerned. But sentimental recollections often include anecdotes and memories of loved ones, which reinforce the social web that extends across people and across time. There is also evidence that nostalgia works towards counteracting depression. The act of reminiscing has been shown to neutralise loneliness and anxiety. When people speak fondly of the past, they also tend to become more hopeful for the future. So nostalgia can in fact be a healing and a bonding experience.

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So, on that note, I’ll wish everyone the very best for 2018. But when you find yourself reflecting back on your life, on those special moments, remember that you are finding value and meaning in it. You are reminding yourself that life so far has not been unfulfilled and you are looking forward to creating more fond and wonderful memories. So, enjoy remembering the past: and here’s to the future!


Vegan Wars

People who love the taste of meat and then become vegetarians or vegans are admirable. The idea that you give up something you find delicious because of ethical beliefs or the idea that it is beneficial to your health is commendable. It’s much easier for me. I’ve never liked eating meat. Some of my earliest memories are of my Dad producing a pheasant from a long pocket and my mum rendering it ready for the oven, plucking it and draining the dead bird of most the shot embedded in its white flesh, although never quite all of it. I remember the sound of a fork hitting metal embedded in flesh all too vividly. I couldn’t eat it, much to their disappointment.

I’ve been vegan for a long time. I’ve never liked eggs and the last milk product I had was probably well over twenty years ago. I’m still here.

It’s not too hard to be vegan nowadays. There is a better understanding of our dietary needs; we have B12 supplements, vegan cheese, nutritional yeast, vital wheat gluten, excellent sources of proteins and vitamins and most restaurants are serving vegan options, even if it is sometimes the dreaded, ubiquitous green salad. We even make acceptable cakes, omelettes, even burgers. Better than acceptable. It’s all so much better than when I first stopped being vegetarian: I remember saying to a waiter in a restaurant  ‘I’m vegan,’ and she replied: ‘Oh, I’m so sorry. How long have you got?’

Vegans are a bunch of label readers, of questioners, and it’s easy to be thought a little pedantic when we ask ‘Were the chips fried in the same oil as the fish?’ or ‘Does the wine contain fish, eggs or milk? (Quite a lot of it does, although many wines now are clarified using clay.) However, if we don’t ask these questions, we’re often inadvertently offered food which goes against our principles. It’s not dissimilar to offering an omnivore dog’s milk or roasted puppy.

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Sometimes, I think I can understand why we’re so disliked by carnivores. Often viewed as part martyr, part saint, we carry our ethics along with their lifestyle everywhere  we go. No wonder there’s that joke about vegans telling you they are a vegan before they tell you their name.

Many carnivores view vegans with suspicion. The question ‘Are you a vegan? and the reply  ‘Yes’  is quickly followed by a nervous ‘Oh, I couldn’t give up meat’ or ‘I don’t eat that much meat’ or ‘But oh, how do you live without bacon?’

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It’s as if they think we are trying to convert all the world into vegans. Perhaps that’s a nice thought. So there’s the problem.

And this is the beginning of the vegan wars.

Of course, understandably, many vegans want to persuade the whole word to enjoy and value what they believe are the benefits of veganism. Many omnivores understandably feel threatened by the pressure and are uncomfortable with the inference that they are responsible for oppression and murder. Speciesism will become a big movement if it isn’t already and, like any cultural change, perspectives shift at a different rate, depending on our experience of life.

I’m asked quite often why I’m vegan and I always want to ask the same question back, why do you eat meat? But I don’t want to be aggressive. It’s simply that the default is to eat meat and any divergence has to be explained and rationalised, whereas it is interesting to question the prevailing culture of carnivorous diets and look for an answer other than because it’s there and available and everybody does it.

Health is a big issue on both sides, vegans suggesting that a diet of meat, egg and dairy, as well as being cruel, is detrimental to health. Meat eaters often claim that we can’t live without meat. Recently someone suggested to me that when cows eat grass they also hoover up tiny insects. Ergo, they can’t live without meat so therefore neither should I. QED? Logic does not always feature in some people’s arguments.

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I have lots of omnivore friends who enjoy eating vegan food with me and it makes me happy that they enjoy meat-free meals and therefore are more likely to try them again. I treat meat-eaters with respect: they might eat less meat and one day even become vegan. Culture is changing. In a recent Guardian article, George Monbiot predicted that livestock farming is coming to an end. He writes some interesting and powerful words:

While we call ourselves animal lovers, and lavish kindness on our dogs and cats, we inflict brutal deprivations on billions of animals that are just as capable of suffering. The hypocrisy is so rank that future generations will marvel at how we could have failed to see it.

Plant-based meat substitutes are becoming more available and taste more and like the original. Of course, many vegans are asked why they don’t just eat real meat instead of substitutes if they like the taste, and often they are told that it is ridiculous to want to eat something which tastes like meat but isn’t when the real thing is so accessible. This is to ignore the three major beliefs of vegans entirely: that veganism is better for health, animal welfare and our environment.

Image result for vegansEating out as a vegan is easier now. When I first became vegan and went to a restaurant, I was offered a plate of lettuce. Another time, I was told there was nothing available – all the vegetables had butter on them. Even poor vegetarians had to choose between omelette and macaroni cheese. Those incidents, while on the decrease, still happen. Recently in a restaurant I rang up in advance, as I usually do, and was pleased to hear that they had vegan choices available. When I arrived, I was offered one choice:  a quinoa, feta and green leafy salad. I was impressed that quinoa was on the menu. I was offered the dish minus the feta and I asked what it would be replaced with. The vegan version would be the same price. I said an avocado or even some beetroot would do but there was a measure of surprise that I wasn’t thankful that they’d extract the cheese, and when the dish arrived for £9.95, it was 80% salad leaves, a small portion of quinoa and a slice of tomato. Not great. But there have also been occasions when I have been served with such a sumptuous plate of food that the omnivores have gazed with envy. Things are improving slowly.

Image result for vegan foodI know a few vegans who are quite aggressive towards meat eaters. Passion is high when animal suffering is on the menu. I know vegans whose argument is sentiment first, logic second, which I can understand to a point as their feelings are strong, but it often doesn’t help their cause. Equally, I know a couple of omnivores who are defensive, irritated and angry when confronted by a vegan, and will argue the case for a carnivorous diet even to the point that they suggest pulling up a radish makes it scream in pain. I’ve seen lots of strongly-worded and disrespectful interchanges on social media.

But mostly, these vegan wars don’t need to happen. So many people who eat meat or fish, eggs or dairy, are eating less of them and becoming more experimental with plant-based meals in the kitchen. Transformation is happening, albeit slowly, and most people are concerned about their health and the condition of the animals they eat as well as the taste of the food and the facility with which it can be obtained. While I enjoy making sausages from vital wheat gluten, nooch herbs and mushrooms – sausages which taste nothing like the real thing, or so I believe – there are many people who enjoy plant-based products from supermarkets which are apparently indistinguishable in texture and taste from meat.

It is likely that the industries that profit from animal slaughter will do less well as the facts of how animals are treated become better known. People are rarely wilfully cruel or inhumane, but it is easy to munch a bacon sandwich and not think about a piglet screaming. For years we have been told that milk is good for us. Now, post-Cowspiracy, many people are already changing their minds and cutting some dairy and meat from their diets. My Dad stopped eating lamb. ‘It hasn’t had a life.’ A friend no longer eats chicken. ‘I like chickens.’ The revolution has started and that means more choice is available, and there is wider understanding of the facts behind the food on the plate. I’m not sure we need a war to bring change. It’s happening already.

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Mellow Fruitfulness

It is autumn now. There is something new, something sharp, a scent of change in the air every morning and the fields are damp. A soft mist rises and leaves are already falling from trees. Autumn is a time when, if it’s not raining, it’s good to go for a walk and breathe cool air, watch crows whirl and pull clusters of blackberries from the prickles to take home and cook into something delicious, courtesy of autumn.

Or it’s a time to sense winter’s first ice on the wind and contemplate the bite of the cold, whether the central heating will work this year and then start to chop firewood.

Summer months are long and fickle, some days gloriously warm, some much less so, but although the weather controls much of what we do – and it’s at this point that it’s appropriate to remember those people whose lives are caught up in storms,  hurricanes, avalanches and forest fires – we are lucky that we can decide whether we allow the weather to dominate our moods and actions.

Pathetic fallacy is wonderful in literature –the storms on the moors in Wuthering Heights, Frankenstein‘s violent lightning, Ophelia’s broken willow branch in Hamlet –but of course, it is a fallacy. Nature isn’t a metaphor for human emotions.

I went for a walk last Thursday, a three mile stroll along the country lanes, and the rain was drumming on the hood of my coat, but it was exhilarating. It’s interesting how the imagination works in time with the rhythm of squelching footsteps, and how new ideas form when we force our heads to become empty. Ted Hughes’ brilliant poem  Thought Fox explains it so well: prints begin to form in the mind and then on the blank page at the point when we don’t force them.

Image result for Fox in snowMy thoughts during the walk drifted to think about people who will find the winter’s temperatures challenging. People who live in damp accommodation, who can’t afford heating bills. Many people have nowhere safe to live: communities who travel are in need of warmth and welcome; those who are homeless are really at the mercy of the elements. For those of us who are fortunate, winter is about log fires, toasted crumpets, steaming mugs of hot chocolate and it is precisely that feeling of being safe, warm and comforted which we all need. As the cold weather approaches, wherever we live in the world, adequate food and clothing are important, shelter, someone to visit and talk, to help break the monotony of loneliness.

My garden has a great quantity of fruit this autumn and I have a freezer full of stewed apples. I’ve given bags away, to friends, relatives, the Amazon driver, anyone who will benefit. My neighbour has a bowl of Bramleys at the bottom of the lane, for anyone who wants them. And that really is a metaphor, sharing our abundance with those who have none.

When winter comes, being cold is part of the fun. We all hope for snow: not the snow which is hazardous to drivers, but the white drifts which pile high in the hills and we can walk for miles, our breath like mist, and go tobogganing on tin trays and come home with red cheeks and melting clumps of ice on our boots. Winter is not to be feared, as long as we look out for each other.

Of course, if we are lucky with our health, another spring will come around. Crocuses will peep through the hard soil, the pale sun will deepen to a rich yellow and then summer will be with us again. There will be more apples to share, more long evenings around the barbecue with friends and more days strolling on the beach with that special person.

So each moment, whether warm or cold, is to be welcomed, embraced and enjoyed. We are fortunate if we can watch drizzle from the warmth of a room, behind a window, our feet too hot against the radiator.

I spend a lot of time writing during the winter months . My desk is in front of the window and I can see pigs, sheep, fields, trees, brambles. The pylon. I spend a lot of time not looking out of the window. On the computer screen, the thought fox is pressing its little prints on the keyboard and there are pictures, images, ideas, wild and whirling words. But when I glance up and see the rain battering the glass or the grey sky hanging like a tarpaulin, I realise I’m lucky. I can always go and put the kettle on, sit in front of the fire, have a cup of tea.

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International Romani Day: April 8th

Today we remember. April 8th is a day designated to think about the largest ethnic minority- some ten million Roma live in Europe  and six million within the EU- and we should remember that Romani people are still subject to discrimination and social exclusion.

I’ve heard the same argument all my life, words which come from people who don’t seem to know better. I heard it again a week ago, when  a man I know vaguely, whom I was chatting to at a party said he had never met a Rom who wanted to integrate with him. He then issued forth with a mouthful of stereotypes and misinformation, based on prejudice and hype, complete with words I found offensive.  I moved on.

Education is the answer.

Years ago, my Dad was born in a wagon. My Grandmother pushed him out while my Grandfather was outside playing the hurdy-gurdy. At that point, my Dad had no concept of prejudice.

Eighteen  years later, my Dad joined the army to fight for this country.  He told me he was more afraid of the prejudice of the men on his own side than he was of the enemy. He said one of his fellow soldiers told him he would cut his throat and make it look like he’s fallen in the line of duty.

As a child, I was told to ‘keep it quiet and keep my distance’: the idea that outsiders would judge, that there would always be discrimination, was a constant companion. My parents were brilliant and proud of who we were: they did their best and I am grateful  but there was a repeated message:  ‘You are as good as everyone else. Don’t let them tell you otherwise.’ The inference was that, somehow, other people wouldn’t see it the same way.

For me, education was the answer, my way to restore the balance.

My Dad didn’t go to school for long. Days, not months. He could recite a couple of random lines – he didn’t know the source but it was from Love’s Labour’s Lost. He had no idea what it meant and  it didn’t help him with literacy. He spent most school days in the woods and learned a number of useful skills which he later passed on to my brother.

When icicles hang by the wall
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail
And Tom bears logs into the hall
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp’d and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

My upbringing was perfectly normal to me but I always knew we were outsiders: there were different words for things, different rules inside and outside our council house home. Then there was my Grandma, with her clay pipe and her unusual ways of cooking, washing, speaking. I loved my Grandma.

When my Dad died, I couldn’t tell the registrar when or where he was born. He never had a birth certificate. I wasn’t even sure of which of his names was the official one. But I didn’t care. It didn’t matter. He’d have found it hilarious, the fact that the person filling in his death certificate had no information to go on. He’d have preferred the anonymity.

But today isn’t a day to keep quiet: it’s a day to celebrate Romani culture. There are so many other people in the UK who are proud of their heritage. On March 17th, so many people wave the flag of their Irish ancestors and enjoy the celebrations of St Patrick’s Day. I’m sure St George’s Day is commemorated in many schools.

But when I was at school, I never heard any mention of the Romani people in History lessons. I was never taught about the 500 years of Roma slavery. There was no mention of Roma literature or poetry, yet I invite you to read Louise Doughty and Cecilia Woloch for some of the loveliest words written. We were never taught about Porajmos. All cultures should be represented in schools if all children are to feel included. We all need to understand our own and others’  history.

Education is the answer.

As a culture, Romani people are often expected to be invisible. Think back to the words of my racist acquaintance, whose attitude stems from ignorance rather than evil . It’s sometimes easier for us to stay quiet, keep out of the way, say nothing, : after all many people today who consider themselves non-racist are still validating racism, saying anti-ziganist abhorrent things which they consider somehow to be acceptable because it falls outside the racism most people mean when they use the term.

Jekh dilo kerel but dile hai but dile keren dilumata.

Education is the answer.

Someone once suggested the Romani people make little contribution to society. Perhaps some of these Romanichals will surprise you. My guess is that there are a ton more Romani people, some now house dwellers, achieving brilliant things in the normal way, discreetly and modestly.

But today April 8th is a remembrance day. It is a day for dignity and respect. A day to put dangerous stereotypes and misleading information to one side, and to celebrate a culture which emerged from India from the time of Alexander the Great. It is a time to move forward, to ask for improved human rights. It is also a time to remember the history of abuse and ill treatment, and to consider the victims of the Porajmos, who are believed to be upwards of near 500,000 men, women and children.

Education is always the answer. The words of Dr Ian Hancock  resonate with me, today and every day:

In order for things to change, the Gypsy Image must be deconstructed, and a more accurate one put in its place – in the bureaucratic structures as well as in the textbooks.

Ashen Devlesa, Romale. Na bister 500,000.

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Positive Mental Attitude is a winner every time

When I was doing my previous job, the one I loved doing before I gave it all up to become a full time writer and have the very best time of my life, I was still the happy soul I am today. I used to sing while I was working. I’d smile, joke, hug people and generally enjoy myself. Once I played the track James Brown’s I Feel Good and incited people to get on tables and dance. I am like that, spontaneous and cheerful.

Then, out of the blue, one day  a colleague passed me and threw me a dagger-look of pure anger and hissed ‘Why are you always so bloody positive?’

I laughed, then stopped laughing and wondered why she was feeling so negative. Perhaps she was unwell or someone she cared about was unwell. Perhaps she had anxieties or problems which caused her to be grumpy. So I became even nicer to her. She shortly left her job and went to live in a place where the sun shone every day.

I saw her a week ago and she looked great. The worries of the job were behind her, she had a really good view of the world.It was nice to see her feeling so happy about life.

Positive Mental Attitude is not always easy to achieve but it really helps if we can try to use it in our everyday lives.

My Dad was a glass-half-empty person and I completely understand why. His life was the dregs at the bottom of the bottle most of the time and he did really well to make the glass even half full. He was at his best when he was laughing, dancing on neighbour’s walls and making mischief, or finishing off the contents of a glass. I really admire him for making the most of nothing and I feel privileged that we’re so much luckier nowadays.

Having a PMA is something we can all work towards and I can think of some strategies to keep positive even when the excrement hits the cooling device.


  • First of all, you might choose to have a sankalpa, a positive message or affirmation you repeat to yourself, a promise from the heart which is repeated daily or even more frequently with a determination to succeed. It may be in two parts: firstly, a statement about something already in place, such as ‘I accept and love who I am.’ The second is a resolution or a goal you would like to become a way of life, such as ‘I am open to the opportunities life will offer me.’ Perhaps it is wise to spend a few days thinking about and choosing the right sankalpa so that it is meaningful to you and will become part of your daily routine. Say your sankalpa three times, when you are relaxed or meditating,  and it will impress itself onto the subconscious and become a mantra to help you move forward. Say it three times before going to sleep. You might like to research this further: I recommend swami Satyananada Saraswati’s book  Yoga Nidra.
  • Don’t dwell on  what others say to you or about you. Their opinions are theirs, not yours. Whether what they are saying is positive or negative, it cannot affect you unless you let it. Of course, if you want to accept a kindness or a compliment from someone else, then thank them and return the positivity, but remember it is only ever their opinion and that neither embodies them nor you. We are more than just what we say and think. We are not simply defined by our feelings or our words.
  • Move forward from difficult situations. Again, those situations which make us feel stuck and uncomfortable do not define us. Give yourself a time limit. Say ‘I will allow this to bother me for an hour, then I will stop.’ Write whatever is difficult on a piece of paper and throw it away or burn it. Allow yourself to move forward and…
  • Forgive yourself. You will get things wrong, mess up, make mistakes, need to start again. Try not to blame yourself or others as that is just a way of stopping yourself moving forward. We fall down, we get up, we walk a bit straighter. It’s ok to get it wrong, smile, say sorry and move on. Life is full of all sorts of lessons but self punishment isn’t one of them.
  • You control what you feel and how you react. Nobody else does. You are master of yourself.Or mistress.Nobody knows you better than you do so, finally, what you decide is always down to you. Enjoy that privileged position and own it.
  • Embrace life, enjoy what is happening now in the knowledge that we are here to experience every moment whether things change or stay the same. Learn from any challenges and move forward without feeling guilty, just educated instead.
  • Love yourself and reflect it on other people. Cream called it ‘Sunshine of your love.’ Radiate happiness, and positivity will come back to you.
  • Play good positive music to lift your spirits. Happy music, music you love, which makes you smile, sing, dance. Start wearing purple. .Avoid Bobby Goldsboro’s Honey like the plague at all times.

PMA comes with a warning though. The Pollyanna- head-in-the-clouds attitude, belief  that the world’s all lovely and nice and honey will fall from the skies and positive thinking will transform all things bad is simply not real, it’s what comes out of the back end of a male cow.

Be realistic, grounded, rooted and aware of the negativity which is around us.There are curmudgeons and misanthropes and grumps, people who are genuinely unhappy and some of the time things may not always go well for people so they have good reason to be sad. So people who beam relentlessly in the face of adversity and greet every negative situation with a cheesy ‘Peace and love and wait for the karma to come around ‘ can be quite annoying to the average person, and a bit of empathy is a very useful attribute when faced with someone who isn’t seeing the world from the highest vantage point.

Think of my poor work colleague. My positive attitude really annoyed her and spoiled her day.That was far from my intention but she was clearly seeking the solace of those people she felt an affinity with: people she could complain with and then empathise with.

The answer then is to spend time with those you love and enjoy the company of good people. Enjoy your own company too- after all, you are good company.And if you can shed off any burdens which weigh life down, then it can’t do any harm.

It’s fine to go for your dreams but give people respect while you are doing it. Believe you can do it, whatever it is, and then you will, but also be aware that if you don’t, it’s no big deal. Next time you’ll nail it.


Animation and music to make you smile.

I thought I’d share a Youtube song with an animated film, which made me feel really happy when I saw it. Happy weekend time.

It is Gogol Bordello’s Pala Tute.

Directed by  Aliaksei Tserakhau, the video is a mixed media collage which blends stop-motion animation and live action, with a lot of green screen work.

The story line is four minutes of mischief, featuring a tale of star-crossed lovers shown by Tarot cards. The action incorporates a tongue-in-cheek twist on traditional favourites such as Adam and Eve, King Kong and Dracula.

The visuals are stunning, featuring caravans which pass through time and space in fantasy, with claymation animated models of the three band members Eugene Hütz, Elizabeth Sun and Sergey Ryabtsev. The animated action is interspersed with Eugene’s performance, which is equally enthralling and animated.

The video, originally released in 2010, promotes the song Pala Tute from the excellent album Trans Continental Hustle. The chorus,

Lela lela lela, lela pala tute
Jas kana meres, mirala pala late

translates as

get her get her get her get her for yourself
and then, when you die, you’ll die for her

It is a lively song, great to dance to and, as I  have seen this band more times than fingers and thumbs I was born with, I can recommend any gig they play.

They tour all the time and are spectacular live. They have 2 days in London this summer, on 26/27 July, and are always memorable for their high energy and musical mayhem.

Don’t make the mistake I once did, last time I saw them in London, of buying a ticket for a seat. You won’t be able to sit in it for long. Every other time I have seen them has been on two feet. This band are best appreciated from the front of the auditorium, dancing in the crowd.


Magic fingers, bubbling music, spellbound.

Today as the sun was shining in the South of merry England, a postman dropped a brown envelope through my letterbox and walked away, whistling a catchy tune.

I was busy writing so I left the post for later, which made the contents of the envelope a real treat when I finally ripped the paper apart. Inside was a CD called Glass Ceiling by the Roger Gardiner Trio and I put it on my CD player and let the music saunter up into the sunshine, all rock and jazz and sweet sounds.

The trio comprises father, Rog, and two sons, Jack and Luke: all three are dazzling practitioners at their own instruments, but together the mix is magic.

Journalist Bill Parry, who writes the CD sleeve notes, is a gentleman, a scholar and a musicophile. The breadth of his knowledge of musical history equals his admiration for auditory ecstasy and his writing is quite special. He belongs to a genre where the reviewer’s write-up  is erudite, unpretentious and completely effusive. A treat to read. But his words are not superlatives without reason…

Rog plays an 8-string bass and it bubbles and bursts beneath the rest of the music like a volcano about to explode. It can’t be ignored but it rumbles and groans and persists with a hightailing effervescence which changes suddenly to a peppery warning which would be reckless to overlook.

Luke’s drums are consistent and creative: he has been shaking the sticks since he was in nappies and the experience and practice have paid off with faultless perfection as he weaves mischief with his spirited thunder.

Jack is a guitar-maestro: acclaimed worldwide as a rock musician, he creates a unique sound, all spiky licks and rippling riffs, music to make your head bend with each note and your soul soar like a rocket. His spider fingers weave across the fretboard and create a sound which is mesmerising and explosive.

Together the three cast a spell of pure genius. Add to the brew the smooth-as-honey voice of guesting singer, antipodean vocalist Lexi McDonald, and you have a melting, hypnotic and soothing delivery. It’s a strong brew, mixing the cauldron-bubbling bass, the magic sparks of the drums and the wild and ethereal elusiveness of a lead guitar which spins and whirls like a willo the wisp.

Glass Ceiling has seven tracks and was engineered at Glass House Studios, Birkenhead, an enterprise masterminded and managed by Rog’s wife, Jan.

Four of the tracks are innovative versions of some favourite musicians’ work, a homage to bands such as Cream, Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead. There is the beautiful, funky track,  Artist’s Garden, a creation by genius and ex-Dead Poppies guitarist, Ken Rutherford. Then there are two pieces by the three Gardiner boys themselves: Jam and Bossa Jam, both enthralling platforms to show off the impresario skills of a family whose musical ability rises beyond expectation.

On the back of the CD is the cutest picture of the band some 15 or so  years ago, when they had probably already been jamming together for several years. The boys were about three and six years old, grinning and frolicking with their instruments while Dad is pictured in the background, always hammering the ubiquitous pounding bass.

Starting them young is key to achieve consistently high-class musicianship – these guys could’ve recorded this album in their sleep – but what really makes this album special, beyond the faultless and inventive music, is the unifying sense of rapport, enjoyment and prowess which these dynamic musicians share as a trio. After all, three is a magic number.

Three times to yours, and three times to mine, and three times again, to add up to nine. Enough! The charm is ready.

It goes beyond family and energy and enthusiasm: Glass Ceiling is a masterpiece of sublime musical fusion.

Up a hill in the middle of nowhere. What would you miss most?

So, here I am in the middle of rural Brittany, up a very vibey hill which has legends of elves and korrigans and spirits and all sorts. The wind is moaning and dark clouds hang. Someone has just taken a photo of someone else and they have come out twice on the picture, no gadgets or tricks used, Very weird. And there’s no wifi and no technology. Nothing normal happens here…
What would you miss most from the real world as the darkness rolls in?

Strangely enough, it’s my electric toothbrush I find myself searching for. And music.

Food is good because I have a bottle opener and some wine, salad leaves and lots of fresh vegetables, strawberries and a packet of oat cream. But it’s very quiet here and there’s no music so I am left to my imagination to dream up what I’d play if I had Spotify.

In a quiet environment, one can go one of two ways. Either it has it be relaxing soporific mellow sounds. Or it has to be noise. You know which one I’m going for up a weird mountain in the dark.

So here’s my top five songs to play in the scary darkness…

Number five

Weezer. Hash Pipe. 

Lovely reliable music with a great repetitive riff, crazy lyrics, totally predictable rocky music which sticks a big grin on your face. Turn it up loud.

Number four

Damien Marley. Hey Girl.

Superb live version with mad lyrics which make me laugh. Totally danceable and it is happy and clever and good to sing along to. This will banish any ghosties outside the tent or camper van…

Number three

Johnny Winter, Hustled down in Texas.

Johnny died last year, aged 70, another incredible loss to rock music. Now he could play a guitar like a-ringing a bell and such a gutsy gravelly voice. I could choose a lot more of his music but this is one to keep the toes warm. I forgot the bed socks so I need something to keep the feet moving. 

Number two

Jack White/ White Stripes. Jolene.

This is such a lovely live version of Dolly’s song and Jack is just the right person to make this song rock. Beautiful, cheeky, clever and full of angst, with Jack’s crazy voice and indulgent guitar. The ideal track to listen to as the wind bangs against the tent flaps.

Number one

My favourite band in the whole world. I can sleep safe with this lot and a bottle of wine in my tent.

Gogol Bordello. Madagascar Roumania Tu Jesty Fata.

Lovely version of a traditional song mixed in with some original Gogol punk. Turn it up loud. Dance. Dance with friends. If an encore is needed before bed, try the old favourite, Start Wearing Purple.

Finish off the wine and curl up and go to sleep safely while the rain batters outside and tomorrow morning, as the tent flaps open, the world will be clear and calm, softened by mists and mellowed in the morning dew.

Then down the road to the nearest bar for a coffee and a pastis before breakfast…

We should dance more! Join me – become a crazy dancer..

Dancing is such a great way to celebrate and to enjoy how our bodies react when we’re enveloped in the rhythm and the emotion of music. I have decided this summer is all about spontaneous dancing. When no one expects it. Unplanned. Grab someone by the hand or just leap onto the table by yourself, shake a leg, a hip, arms up and just go wild.You don’t need an audience. You don’t need a reason. You just want to celebrate feeling happy.

It’s fun being a spontaneous dancer! This morning, as I was making breakfast, Shame, Shame, Shame by Shirley & Co came on my Spotify. The toaster was ignored; the coffee bubbled over, the marmite was left out in the cold. We were  in the kitchen, giving the raunchiest moves to a wonderful piece of music which transports you to fun clubs on outrageous and mischievous nights. By the end of the tune we were all on chairs, tables, jazz hands waving, with smiles as wide as slices of watermelon, feeling like who cares?

Which, of course, set me thinking. I should dance more often.

I was not the sort of child who was sent to ballet or tap classes. We weren’t that kind of family. Of course, I danced as a kid, from the beginning- I bet you did too, that saggy nappy dance where the knees bend and the bottom skims the floor, baby’s round face breaking a smile bigger than trapped wind and an innate, natural rhythm takes over. This is atavism. We were born to dance and we didn’t care less how we looked.

Remember it? We should bring that feeling back into our lives.

My Mum didn’t dance when I was a child. She was too poorly, too tired, too busy and harassed and anyway there wasn’t a lot to dance about. She did sing a lot of songs, mostly about death and loss.

My Dad, however, would have a couple of drinks at night and then he’d whip off his boots, leap over the fence and do a midnight watusi on some posh neighbour’s freshly mown lawn. The next day their roses would be flattened, their tulips downtrodden, and yes, that was my Dad who was probably snoring it off in a nearby hedge. Great days, bless him!

So, we should dance while we can. All the time. Throw our arms in the air, shake our bodies and sing. And here are five tracks I will put out there for you, especially to bring in a spring to your step this coming summer. I will be certainly pounding the floorboards  with these songs, and I’d love it if you’d join me.

Track 5. Motorhead. Ace of Spades. What else can I say? No need.

Track 4. Here’s an ideas you’ll love.You must try it. On a balmy summer night, take a table outside, on the patio, roof, balcony, street, by a lake, under a tree, somewhere you can light candles, put two chairs down and look up at the moon.Set out two glasses, a bottle of Vin Rouge, your favourite savoury nibbles and invite the love of your life (or someone you would like to be,) to join you. After a little conversation, a bit of gentle laughter, put on Manu Chao’s song, Si loin de toi. Whisk your amour to his or her feet and dance cheek to cheek to this tune. Best aphrodisiac, best smooch, bring on the good times.

Track 3.Or try this one. With a bottle  of beer and some good friends at night in the park or early on a Sunday morning to blow the cobwebs away.In the streets, on a bike, on a boat, or at the end of a great house party before everyone goes home. I’d bring in the New Year with the Dropkick Murphys. I’m Shipping up to Boston

Track 2. This is perhaps the most romantic song to dance to when you’re not by yourself and you don’t want to be: it has to be this one. I mean, if you wanted a slow dance with someone you know so well, someone you love or someone you just want to get to know better. If you want to pop a question or even ask a question you shouldn’t, or apologise or if you feel inarticulate and just want the music to do it all for you and express some deepest sentiment, here goes. Just rely on the Rev to rev the mood up for you.  Al Green.

Track 1. Here is my favourite track to dance to. I can rock to this one day and night and it makes my heart bump. For me, this is one of the best anthems by one of the best live bands I have ever seen, and I have seen them many, many times. They speak the thoughts of my soul in their lyrics and their music takes me to the place I am most at home in the world. I can dance my feet to stumps on this one, and on pretty much every song they have ever done.This song says it all – dance to it with fists punching the air, legs like pistons pounding, head back and singing along. It will always clear the dust away and banish any bluesy mood. Strong, positive, infectious music and a message I love. The best. Gogol Bordello’s Break the Spell.

So come on, let’s dance- as the classic song says, put on your red shoes and dance the blues. Bowie’s for another blog, with possibly lots more crazy dance tracks to follow. I mean, I haven’t really got started yet, have I? Where’s the reggae?

Meanwhile, barefoot or booted, get on down and live it up. It doesn’t matter who you’re with or where you are or what you look like when you’re doing it. Let’s just enjoy the moment and  crazy dance the summer days away!

The Tiger Lillies: so beautiful, Brechtian and bad to the bone

Love is a strange thing. We love things which lift our spirits. Spring time makes everything feel better. Or a glass of wine on a Friday night, an unexpected gift or a compliment, a work of art we can see at close range in a gallery, Beckett performed live,  a quiet beach at sunset.

How much happier do we feel when our spirits are lifted by something beautiful?

The Tiger Lillies are in this category, as far as I am concerned. They make me smile and I can’t help it. Their music is evocative, sensual, raucous, cathartic but they are truly bad to the bone.

Like many fans of The Tiger Lillies, I discovered them through watching the film Plunkett and Macleane. Their songs Hell and Whore featured in the score and I wanted to know who this band were who played accordion and sang in the crazy falsetto  style, and I checked them out. Since then, I have been hooked.

Think of Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, a play set to music: a narrator with a white painted face mask enters, barks obscenities at the audience and then whips up energy on stage to make the lehrstucke vivid and immediate, explaining the world as it is. Now imagine The Two Penny Opera, The Tiger Lillies album, and a ‘cheaper’ version. Three figures on the stage: a bass player who also plays the saw, a drummer with a constantly moving kit which includes a hanging chicken and a baby doll, and an accordion player who sings in a bowler hat and grotesque make up. The Tiger Lillies are not only visually distinctive, but visually unforgettable. But it is their sound which amazes and takes the breath away.

I have seen them perform live several times. Once I saw them in a huge auditorium in Manchester. They were spectacular and the audience heckled them good-naturedly for two hours while they played encore after encore as requests.

I saw them in a dive in Bristol where they were superb and I sat on the front row in a huge coat (it was freezing) while Martin Jacques, the ‘criminal castrati,’ sang Maria at the piano and made half the audience weep. It has to be one of the most beautiful, sad and awful songs ever.

I saw them play in a little community centre in Berkshire and most of the audience left before the interval, they were so disgusted. The Tiger Lillies were sensational!

The Tiger Lillies are iconoclasts whose music often pushes boundaries in the way humour so often can. With song titles such as Bastard, Kick a Baby, Banging in the Nails and Piss on your Grave, not to mention She’s My Sheep and Vagina, the band are not for the easily offended. Sometimes, they are even uncomfortable for the thick-skinned, or those with the most outrageous sense of humour, and they are certainly not for those whose strong religious sensibilities can’t handle a ribaldrous bashing.

Their songs hold nothing – and I mean nothing – back in terms of irreverence, in terms of stretching the audience’s moral limits and expectations. Even I have bottled out and skipped the odd track – especially when kids are in the car and I don’t want them to listen to CancerRapist, or Car Crash (which is about Princess Diana). But these three dudes are nothing if not geniuses.

Staple favourites such as Bully Boys and Crack of Doom are great ways to acclimatise oneself to their idiosyncratic and anarchic opera and their peculiarly dark brand of cabaret. This is postmodern vaudeville, entertaining and ironic, with a twist of mischief, covering all aspects of the nefarious side of modern life.

They do covers, too. Check out their renditions of My Funny Valentine, Send in the Clowns, or – for something more upbeat – YMCA.

The Tiger Lillies play around 300 gigs a year and they have released some 35 albums, from Hamlet, Shockheaded Peter, Farmyard Filth, The Brothel to the Cemetery, Bad Blood and Blasphemy and the haunting, beautiful Urine Palace, complete with The Symphony Orchestra of Norrlandsoperan, so it isn’t too difficult to access their work or catch a live gig.

They are not everyone’s taste, as the emptying hall space will suggest if you go and see them. But if you like their brand of deep sadness and cruel humour and you stay until the end, you’ll be guaranteed a chat with the band afterwards as they sign CDs and memorabilia and mix with their audience. What great guys they are too!

Be prepared for surprises: the raw emotional charge of Martin Jacques’ voice can change in a flash to mischief and mayhem. The music is a joy ride which can quickly become swerving savagery. But The Tiger Lillies are a phenomenon to be enjoyed or avoided, and who ever wanted half measures?

They make me smile. They make me sad and deliriously happy. But above all they are entertaining, a joy, a tonic and a corrosively delicious experience not to be missed. Check them out when they are next in the neighbourhood.