Sunday, December 26, 2010

Toffs and Tuffs and Turkeys

Working through Christmas was always going to be a little trying. This year I spent the 'special' day with the family of my 91 year old client at the manor: an intimate gathering of around 15 upper-class toffs, and yours truly. They put on a lavish spread, although being a vegetarian I did bring my own nutroast just to be sure of some protein intake. They pulled the biggest bird I'd ever seen out of their AGA, and I now can appreciate why artificial insemination is essential for modern turkey production. The fatties have been bred so big they are unable to do the deed on their own. Images of live turkeys being inseminated with, well, turkey basters, was almost enough to put me off my sprouts. The seating plan had me placed between spinster vet Aunt Jane and one of my clients grandsons, freshly arrived home from boarding school. I had the option of listening to endless stories about Auntie's horsey vet practice or trying to get blood (i.e. any conversation) out of a stone (i.e. a 14 year old boy). The champagne and wine soon did their job and everyone was embroiled in deciding whether Amanda Knox, the American girl convicted of murder in Milan, was a homicidal hussy or an innocent angel. Having been in Italy when the scandal happened I'd had quite enough of the whole matter and sat tight waiting for pudding.

Other conversational highlights included family friend Horatio's sailing trip to the Antarctic and whether a kick turn was an essential move to master on skiing hols. The skiing part went on for what felt like hours and I was at a loss to recall any appropriate skiing anecdotes, having, um, never actually been skiing. Flaming pudding arrived and was run 'round the table by the youngest granddaughter until it went out. I have to say I love this tradition. Get the youngest child present to run with burning dessert soaked in alcohol, brilliant. Unfortunately it was followed by a tradition that might be my least favourite: watching old Queenie's Christmas message on telly. When my client asked us all to stand for it I had to tell my Irish Republican blood to cool it and think of the hefty fee I was charging for working Christmas day. Lizzie's focus this year was on sports and their ability to build community. Trying to link this up with communities of early Christians in the Bible was drawing an exceptionally long bow I thought, but hey, who is really listening to the old bird?

Next up was games in the drawing room, listening to my client's son tell age-inappropriate dad jokes, bad coffee (another British tradition), and chatting with the 20-something grand kids in the kitchen. The last part was actually enjoyable and I thought to myself 'I could almost like these toffy gen-Yers if their weren't so blissfully unaware of their privilege'. Discussing tertiary education fees and job security with these youngsters was just so odd because I knew they would never really worry about these issues from a place of personal experience. They were born with a sense of entitlement as much as they were born with arms and legs. This entitlement, however, is not extended to the general population, we must tuff it out while the toffs and tories live it up. I can only thank sweet baby Jebus that my 'upstairs/downstairs' days are nearly at an end and I can once more go amongst the commoners, free to badmouth the monarchy, say 'torie scum' instead of 'the conservatives', and never again have to pass up the roast potatoes because they are covered in rich goose fat. Happy Christmas to the tuffs. x

Friday, November 5, 2010

Angry It Up

I made the stupid mistake of watching the new film about The Runaways, instant regret. Where was the intensity, the passion for music, the fire that burned in the hearts of these teenage cherry bombs and threatened to explode? And most importantly, where was the angry? That Joan Jett and Cherie Currie had so much input into the film (Jett co-produced and the script was adapted from Currie's biography) makes it so much worse. I can believe that these young girls were not confident enough to stand up to the sexist bullying of their odious producer Kim Fowley, but I cannot believe they meandered through their Runaway days like the little lost personality-lacking lambs Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart so blankly portray them as. The film tries to take on the issue of exploitation in the music industry but never really comes out and talks about it. There is enough screen time to show scene after scene of pretty girls in makeup and lingerie wasted on uppers and downers, but not enough time to let the characters complain or even just comment on being manipulated. More cherry soda than cherry bomb.
Ari Up (pictured) died almost three weeks ago. Ari formed The Slits in 1976, a year after The Runaways started playing together. She is remembered as a vanguard of punk and feminism, even at 14 she was defiant and rebellious, the real wild girl who developed into a real wild woman. If they do make a film about The Slits I just hope they can convey the conviction they played their music with and the fun they had doing it, because this is what's missing from The Runaways film. That and angry teenagers, and surely they aren't that hard to find?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Squat the countryside

My sis sent me a link to Angus Mcdiarmid's page about his zook (zine/book) The Shire, mentioning that it reminded her of Skills and Glamour, the zine I made with my good friend Lottie while living in Somerset. Mcdiarmid's is a collection of photographs he took from his time in Devonshire, idyllic countryside England, living by the roadside with the gypsies. Images of giant marrows and the twisted rockscape of the west coast made me homesick for the simple days we spent growing veggies, making tables, building fires and pimping out our caravans.
From one countryside anarchist to another, Angus, may you stay beautiful, dirty broke and free.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thompson for Sheriff

In 1970 renowned, reviled and revered gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson ran for Sheriff of Aspen, the Colarado ski resort town that he had chosen to call home. In classic Hunter S style he used the local pub as his campaign HQ. Apparently he almost won but perhaps his policy on drug legalisation was a little too much for small town America to handle. Aspen used to be where the intellectuals came to drop out, but now it's all spas, saunas and ski lodges, a place where the disgustingly affluent go to do dropping out of a different kind. Me, I would prefer to holiday gonzo-style, quibbling with armchair philosophers on mescalin in the pool at Owl Farm rather than paying to fall over repeatedly in the snow. Sign me up Sheriff Thompson.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Effort is hard

Ok so I stole the title of this post off a great blog, but it portrays exactly how I feel after writing an assignment for the first time in years. I'm studying horticulture and while the science of it all is at times baffling, it's also thankfully very practical and aimed and getting people to grow happy healthy plants. I am following an organic path but super-hippy-compassionate it's not! For example biological controls for pests include types of bacterium that eat up the insides of foliage-attacking caterpillars! Eww.
Caterpillar guts.
It's what's for dinner.

Woodland strawberries Fragaria vesca are growing in the pavement in my yard.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sailor tales to sailor tunes

The man I'm working for at the moment is an old sailor, and so the house is filled with literature on war ships and yacht racing. Mr S was on the HMS Repulse when it was sunk by the Japanese in 1941. He went on to race yachts for England. He sure is a survivor.
Surrounded by images of sea-going vessels my craft is inspired by this world of sailor tales. Although pirates and ships have become a bit of hipster cliché I still am drawn to the eerie wonder of life on the high seas. My late uncle was a sailor, he built his own ferro-cement yacht in the late 80s and after he sold it he claimed he never really felt at home again.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Did squirrels invent jazz?

I take my hat off and bow to you David Sedaris, in thanks for 'Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Wicked Bestiary'. After requesting it at the library I was briefly dismayed to find myself holding what I thought was a children's book, illustrations and all. But upon finishing the first tale I realised that yes it is a children's book, a children's book for adults. Just because we grow older doesn't mean we stop wanting to read about cats and baboons chatting in the barbershop. Animals, with all their varied appearances, diets, grooming processes, sexual preferences, habitats and disgusting habits often make much more interesting subject matter than humans. Even humans with disgusting sexual grooming habits. This is Aesop's Fables for the potty-mouthed.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Club Med

Croatia: Cres Island. My good friend and I spent two languid days and nights on these rocks in our own private paradise. As part of our European Freedom Ride we were sleeping out most nights when we could, but nothing compared to waking up to this beautiful calm blue ocean and generous warm sunlight. I couldn't count the amount of times we turned around to each other with great big smiles and squinty eyes, only able to describe our pure happiness by shrugging our shoulders and diving once again into the gentle sparkling Adriatic.

Friday, October 15, 2010


I caught part of an interview with author David Rakoff on The Daly Show and could not help but be charmed by his witty chemo-soaked pessimism. His new book of essays is about expecting the worst in order to avoid disappointment and, although I have always thought looking on the bright side was a good thing I can see Rakoff's point when he talks of misguided optimism. I'm keen to order a copy into our little village library here on the Isle of Wight (I'm doing live-in care work friends...yep, livin the life of a 90yo) not only so I can read it but so I can expose the villagers to Rakoff's razor-sharp New York humour.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Good as Marigold

These are some images from my time spent on an organic herb farm in Somerset. I left about two weeks ago and miss it so much already! Our neighbours got married in a Quaking house and we strung marigolds onto a friend's Landrover, the vehicle they were delivered to the reception in.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Head Hog

A little patch I made for my friend's birthday. Topical as rescued hedgehogs had just arrived at the herb farm I was working on in Somerset and we were SO excited. Unfortunately the little hedgepigs stayed in their houses during the day and it was too dark to see them at night! But we rejoiced in the knowledge that they would enjoy their new home safe from cars and badgers.

Friday, September 24, 2010

You Poor Take Courage, You Rich Take Care

A lil' somethin I whipped up for the Zed Blog:

A Brisbane drifter’s account of the Bristol Anarchist Bookfair

Did you know that the A and O of the anarchist symbol, seen graph’d on walls across the world, actually stands for ‘Anarchy is Order’, a slogan first penned by Frenchman Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in the 1800s? Or that early radicals in the West counties of the UK (Somerset, Devon and Dorset) formed a bike group called the National Clarion Cycling Club in 1895 with a view to ‘promote socialism by being social’? No? Well neither did I before attending the Bristol Anarchist Bookfair in Stokes Croft on the weekend, the third so far of this annual refreshingly well-organised event. The neighborhood of Stokes Croft is home to a varied and active group of residents and is renowned for its rich history of squatting and community organising, such as their ongoing struggle to oppose a massive Tesco (the UK version of Coles or Woolies) being built smack-bang in the middle of their ‘buy local’ oriented district. Hamilton House was the venue for the very well-attended book fair and three floors of stalls and meeting rooms meant that punters like me were kept busy browsing and chatting to local and traveling anarchists and organisers from diverse groups and distros such as Bristol ABC Prisoner Support, Labour Behind the Label, Bicycology, AK Press, Bristol & South West Hunt Sabs and of course the old wobblies, the IWW. I got in at about lunchtime and chowed down on luscious vegan polenta-lentil bake with salads for £3. Food was cooked and served by local coop the Kebele Social Centre. At one point I looked up from my lunch to see at least five people stuffing ridiculously oversized pieces of vegan chocolate cake into their mouths, the revolution will be delicious with folk like these in the kitchen. With my hunger for food sated it was time to gorge on the smorgasbord of books and zines available. Limited by funds and lack of backpack space I still got the latest copy of Morgenmuffel, a zine hand-drawn by Brighton feminist anarchist activist Isy who also co-authored vegan cookbook Another Dinner is Possible. I was just about to moan about the lack of anarchist fiction available when I came across Edward Douglas Fawcett’s Hartman the Anarchist, republished after more than 100 years out of print. Fawcett wrote his apocalyptic vision of Victorian-era anarchists raining bombs on the houses of parliament in London from a revolutionary airship in 1892 when he was 16 years old, now that is some teenage emo angst put to good use!

There were many workshops and talks on offer throughout the day and I took time out from bookish pursuits to attend a talk in the Radical History Zone on South-West anarchism in the olden-days by local historian Steve Hunt. I was most inspired and intrigued by the information Hunt presented about the middle-class women of Bristol in the 1830s and 40s who left their cushy Clifton residences to show solidarity for the workers in poorer areas, moving into working-class digs and advocating for better conditions and pay for Bristol’s struggling dockers, factory workers and homeworking seamstresses. And then there was the aforementioned National Clarion Cycling Club, determined to spread people power through the countryside. Armed with wheatpaste and socialist propaganda in their saddlebags they would set off on picnics with tea and crumpets packed, leaving no turnstyle, fencepost or farmgate unadorned with their boldly printed poster proclaiming loudly ‘Fellowship is life! Lack of fellowship is death!’. It seems that long before Critical Mass was a twinkle in anyone’s eye the Clarion Club were escaping their industrial towns and villages and assembling and biking for truth, freedom and, well, the sheer pleasure of it. Brisbane fixie kids take heed!

I scarce had time to consult my program to see what was next when the room was invaded by the very boisterous presence of Ray ‘Roughler’ Jones, a stalwart bad boy of the Welsh punk scene in Swansea. Jones paced up and down the room launching into titillating stories of his time in a rag-tag punk/striptease band with the infamous Ian Bone of Class War. His witty recollections and thick Welsh brogue kept all entertained even if we didn’t know what the bloody hell he was saying half the time. Jones was promoting his new book Drowning on Dry Land, a memoir of booze, drugs, prison, chatting up Marianne Faithful and his time editing Roughler magazine. I left the room mentally exhausted after the indomitable Jones explained he had to ‘fuck off’ and catch a train to Penzance to see a friend. The only thing left to do was to sample some local beers and ciders at the Canteen bar downstairs, a perfect tribute to Jones’ tales of intemperance and indulgence. For the rough and ready of the bookfair crowd there was a follow-up fundraiser/afterparty (the fair costs between £800 and £1000 to run and there is no entrance fee) at an old tailors’ shop down the road with entertainment by COP ON FIRE (Belgium)
D’ONDERHOND (Belgium) and THE DAGGER BROTHERS (Bristol). Although I am of the opinion one can have too much ska and dub-step in one night the bands played with spirit and defused the only fight that arose, commenting on the futility of left-wing activists warring against each other when there is so much else in the world to rise up against. Here here.

In all the bookfair was a fortifying experience for this Brisbane escapee. I marvel at how Bristol can support so many social centres, squats and co-ops and wish this were true also for my own hometown. The event made me rethink my own complacency in getting active in grassroots organising in Brisbane because it seemed to hard, I was too busy, or I couldn’t find a group that exactly represented my politics. After seeing so many self-reliant individuals working hard to confront capitalism through direct action, creativity and mutual-aid I am inspired to join the battle. Coz if it was easy, they wouldn’t call it “struggle” right?

Olivia Caputo

Bad blogger

A thousand apologies for my lack of blog presence, I will make it up with pics real soon, mostly for my sis who is probs the only person reading this!

In the meantime here is a hundred year-old loom I saw in a craft village in Donegal Ireland.