Thursday, 26 February 2009

They've been fiddling with it....

I dunno what the Blogger people have done but I've had a few emails over the past few days from people who've tried to add comments without success. And I think the site looks different too to the last time I logged in.

So, sorry to those who can't leave a comment, 'snot my fault so I'm not sure what to do....

Saturday, 21 February 2009

A quandary

I'm in a quandary. I don't like being in quandaries, they unnerve and upset me. I generally don't really do chaos terribly well (although if you saw the state of my house you'd shriek 'Liar, liar, pants on fire' at me). The Husband has told me that I'm the calmest person he knows and, I have to admit, I do tend towards the laid back approach to most things. Of course, I do also have days when I can do a passable impression of Hattie Jacques in brisk matron mode (in size as well as demeanour) and things have to be done 'spit spot'. But that generally only happens once a month and is hormone-linked. And only lasts 24 hours.

But, yesterday and today (and probably tomorrow, if truth be told), a quandary is what I am in.

I think I need to do something with my life. I very much miss teaching archaeology - I had a fledgling career as a university lecturer but had only been teaching for about a year before Surrey, in their infinite wisdom, shut down the degree course and threw us out into the street. This was in 2005. I know, four years ago now.

I looked into carrying on teaching but I had not had enough experience at Higher Education level teaching to have the confidence to approach other universities, such as Birkbeck or Reading, that teach Archaeology to see if they would take me on. And Surrey County Council also no longer cover archaeology in adult education, so I couldn't get experience there. It was all very depressing - for the first time in my life there had been the possibility of a proper career in front of me. A career where people actually respected my opinion and looked up to me. All my life up until then I had been 'just' a secretary, waaaaaay down the food chain, being told what to do constantly by other people. But a university that's something my late father would have been immensely proud of.

So, instead, I turned to my fledgling jewellery-making career. At the time I was in the very fortunate position of having a husband that worked at a well paid job in the City so money was not a problem (and for that I am, as always, more than grateful). He created a website for me (VenerableBead), I did craft fairs, village fetes and house parties. I still do. I very much enjoy the creative side - the searching for unusual semi-precious stones and combining them with pearls of many colours gives me great pleasure. The making of dichroic glass - the searching for the colours, the cutting, gluing and fusing - thrills me inordinately, you never know what's going to come out of the kiln.

I have sold over 750 individual items of jewellery since I started trading - people like my stuff. It's unique and affordable, and you absolutely will not find stuff like it in the High Street.

In March I am entering some pieces for the Spring Exhibition of the local Art & Crafts Society plus, for the first time, one of my own watercolours:

(Sorry the picture's a bit out of focus but it's hills beside a lake - I rather like it. If you click on it the picture gets bigger).

I am also submitting three bracelets I made from Dichroic Glass (although I only seem to have taken reasonable pictures of two of them):

Dichroic glass is glass that contains multiple micro-layers of metal oxides which give the glass dichroic (as in 'two [di-] colour [chroic]') optical properties. Dichroic glass was originally developed by NASA and its contractors for use in satellite optics and spacesuit visors. Dichroic glass sheets are available in a number of colours and different patterns and textures. They can be layered with each other or just a clear sheet of ordinary glass, and various effects can be achieved by fusing in a glass kiln. Varieties are, literally, endless.

I am also submitting six pendants from dichroic glass that I fired and then wrapped in silver- or gold-plated wire in an American style. This is particularly curlicued and swirly and, as you might have guessed, is popular in the States. I've not seen it on this side of the pond yet, so have been experimenting with it.

It's actually quite complicated and takes a fair bit of time to do each one. Sadly I can't charge anything like a decent amount of money for them because they take so long to do and no-one would buy them from a craft fair if I did.

To be honest, the credit crunch has definitely affected sales of my jewellery - it would help if I could get them into a shop but I don't really know how to go about doing that and how to negotiate an acceptable deal. I can't blame people for not wanting to buy my stuff - when you've got the mortgage to pay, food to buy and bills to pay, then frivolous spangles are not going to be exactly top of the list.

And, as I said at the top of this rather lengthy post, I miss teaching and being involved in archaeology. But good jobs in archaeology are as rare as hen's teeth. I have one or two contacts that I could ask but there's no guarantee they would be able to help. I could look into doing a PhD (which is something I very nearly started back in 2003 but kind of missed the boat - long story).

Or I could continue with the jewellery.

I don't know what to do - does anyone have any suggestions?

Saturday, 14 February 2009

"I am angry, I am ill and I'm as ugly as sin..."

My irritability keeps me alive and kicking
I know the meaning of life, it doesnt help me a bit
I know beauty and I know a good thing when I see it

This is a song from under the floorboards
This is a song from where the wall is cracked
My force of habit, I am an insect
I have to confess I'm proud as hell of that fact

I know the highest and the best
I accord them all due respect
But the brightest jewel inside of me
Glows with pleasure at my own stupidity

I used to make phantoms I could later chase
Images of all that could be desired
Then I got tired of counting all of these blessings
And then I just got tired

I went to a proper gig last night. My first for, ooh, about 14 years. But before we discuss this, let's put this into some sort of perspective.

My teens and twenties (mostly the 1980s) were obsessed with music - I wrote it, I sang, I played saxophone, I recorded in a big famous London studio, I recorded a demo tape with Dave Fenton (the lead singer and writer with The Vapors, of 'Turning Japanese' fame), I played on stage with various bands in London and the south of England, I even busked on the streets of Brighton and Guildford, a single was self-financed and released. I met my first husband, The Artist, when my band, Matrix, supported his band, Disruptive Patterns, at a local gig venue in Guildford in 1981.

Anyway, I moved in with The Artist and we eventually married in 1985. Local bands were thick on the ground in Guildford in the mid-80s, it was a really good time to be making your own music. The Civic Hall was host to some major gigs during this period so you didn't have to go up to London to see them - they came to us! But we still trolleyed off up to the smoke to see bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees, Simple Minds (when they were good, before they became all pompous and stadium), The Cramps, Echo and the Bunnymen, Killing Joke, and those are just the ones I can remember at the moment.

But one of my favourite bands at the time was Magazine. Their heyday was from about 1978 to the very early 1980s and they didn't gig a lot. They'd more or less split by the time I was introduced to their music by The Artist, but, over the years, I have found myself returning to their three albums - 'Real Life', 'Secondhand Daylight' and 'The Correct Use of Soap' - and dancing around the room. So I never saw them play.

Then, in July 2008, it was announced that Magazine would be reforming to perform a handful of gigs in February 2009. I nearly exploded with delight! Tickets were duly purchased for the one solitary gig in London (the others are Oop North) that they would be doing - Friday 13 February at The Forum in Kentish Town.

Demand for tickets was so great that an extra date was announced for Thursday 12 February and two friends of mine got tickets for that one. I called one of them, S, during Friday afternoon to ask how the gig went. "It was completely brilliant. The audience was all old so it was very polite! Some had even brought their kids", he reported. "They played everything, so it was great".

The Husband and I got to the Forum at about 8pm in time for the support band, an all-girl, semi-goth band called Ipso Facto. I thought they were pretty good but, as ever with a support band, everyone's come to see the headliners so the applause was polite (as befits the audience demographic) rather than wild.

The audience - ah, well, what can I say? I texted S from the gig (I apologise in advance for the teenage txtspk):

Me: "U r quite right about it being a gig 4 oldies!"

S: "Do we really look that old too?"

Me: "Sadly, yes, old, fat + grey".

There was even a section set aside for disabled punters, right next to the mixing desk. I thought this was rather fabulous, actually, especially as one chap in a wheelchair with walking sticks started waving them around in the air and, at one point, even got up out of his wheelchair and stood - huzzah! It's a miracle!! But, in the days when I used to go to lots of gigs, this kind of access was just not considered. Also it really was much more pleasant not to be breathing in secondhand cigarette smoke. I know this kind of goes against the images of gigs, where large crowds of people get very hot and sweaty while dancing in the dark to deafening music while toking on large spliffs and I do sort of miss that, but not the stink of it on your clothes and hair later. Hmm, perhaps I am getting old after all.

The crowd were really our age, mid to late 40s, greying hair, pot bellies, wrinkles and glasses. After the support band finished, The Husband opined that it would have been good to have had a sit down on a comfy chair in between the bands, perhaps also enjoying a nice cup of tea, and I knew EXACTLY what he meant! But we had to stand - I had forgotten the inordinate quantity of standing involved at gigs - until my back started to ache and I lost the feeling in my little toes on each foot!

But, goddamn, it was worth it. Magazine came on and the audience erupted, even though Howard Devoto no longer looks like some kind of skinny insect but rather more like Donald Pleasance, and much shorter than I realised. They played 'The Light Pours Out of Me' and the audience went menkle. It was better than I imagined it could have been, for a bunch of old men, they truly knew how to rock. The applause at the end of the first song was ecstatic and did not stop.

In case there are any other hardcore Magazine fans out there reading this, the set list was:

*The Light Pours Out of Me
*Model Worker (with Obama reference)
*Great Beautician In The Sky /The Honeymoon Killers (medley)
*Because You're Frightened
*You Never Knew Me
*Rhythm of Cruelty
*I Want To burn Again
*This Poison
*A Song from Under the Floorboards
*The Book
*Twenty Years Ago/Definitive Gaze (medley)
*Shot By Both Sides
*Thank You (fallentime...)
2nd encore:
*I Love You You Big Dummy

Magazine were very influential and should have been far bigger than they were. Say 'Magazine' to most people of our age and many of them, at least those that don't respond 'eh? You what?' will say, 'Oh yeah, they did "Shot By Both Sides", didn't they? Loved that single'. They also wrote the best opening line of any song ever, which is the title of this posting and comes from 'A Song from under the floorboards'.

I've been very saddened in recent years by the reforming and touring of old punk bands such as the Sex Pistols which is an obviously cynical ploy to milk money. The Magazine gig didn't feel like that, it was a genuine celebration of a band that was literate, talented and wrote damn catchy tunes.

So here, for your delectation, from Youtube is an admittedly fairly ropey video of Magazine performing 'The Light Pours Out of Me' at The Forum on Thursday 12 February 2009, for all those who weren't there....

Magazine - The Light Pours Out of Me

Monday, 9 February 2009

Wintry Weather

As an aside from the maudling thoughts on my probably imminent demise, I thought you might like to see some of my most recent photos, taken during this extraordinary winter weather we've just had. Yes, there's a cat in there and some snow and some trees and some birds. Damn, I wish this blog was more entertaining....

A bit stressed, actually....

I'm a bit stressed right now. In the giant scheme of things, in light of the tragedy of people in Australia being burned to death in their cars while trying to escape, in the light of a friend of mine being operated on today for oesophageal cancer, in light of the agony being suffered by the parents of a 6-year old boy who fell through the ice and died over the weekend, my stresses don't amount to a hill o' beans but they're there. And this is my blog, so I'll write what I please.

I have suspicions about my health. A few posts earlier I told you about my gastric attacks over the christmas period. I immediately stopped drinking alcohol and they've not (really) returned. Interestingly I seem to have lost my taste for beer and wine subsequently. I've had the odd bottle of beer (as an experiment, you understand) in the last couple of months and have not liked the taste. We opened a bottle of red sometime in January, took me all evening to drink 1.5 glasses and I didn't enjoy it. Time was I could put away a bottle and be dancing and singing around the sitting room, but no longer it seems. Oh well, if it's meant to be then it's meant to be. The upside is that I do seem to have lost weight, around 5 lbs, which is not to be sniffed at and I also no longer seem to suffer from acid reflux in bed at night. This last is an absolute godsend because I was going through bottles of Gaviscon until I thought I should buy shares but now they sit on the floor, beside the bed, getting crusty around the top.

But I had an (extremely mild, it has to be said) attack on Saturday evening, after a bath. I came down, sat on the sofa and immediately felt the all-too-familiar feeling of cramp starting under my right shoulderblade. I took some deep breaths and hoped like fury that it wouldn't get worse and it didn't. I decided not to tell The Husband as he's under a huge amount of stress himself and he don't need no more.

So it's not necessarily the alcohol then that's the problem. When I had all the problems with infections and ERCP-induced pancreatitis back in 2006, the surgeon told me that even though I'd had my gallbladder removed, I could still get gallstones. When I asked how this would manifest itself given that stuff had been taken out, he said, "Jaundice". So, as you can probably imagine, I've spent an unduly large amount of time lately pulling my eyelids down in front of the bathroom mirror. Sometimes I think they look the slightest shade of primrose yellow around the edges, but then it might just be the light from the bathroom window. My skin is naturally slightly olive but I've seen pictures of people with proper Jaundice and they look like they've been dipped in dye, in other words, really yellow. I don't think I have jaundice which, in my mind, means I don't have gallstones.

So what else could it be? Everything felt a bit sore and stiff along the bottom edge (and just underneath) my ribcage yesterday, but it didn't get any worse overnight or when I ate or anything like that. Pee and poo are absolutely normal (sorry to mention that but abnormal pee and poo is a sign of problems). Of course with Jade Goody's cancer battle all over the press and my friend being treated for oesophageal cancer, not to mention Patrick Swayze's fight with pancreatic cancer (the one I'm dreading), then my thoughts can't help but travel to The Big C.

I've decided I do actually probably need to visit the doctor, not least to put my mind at rest. But I'm a bit scared. It could, after all, just be something as meaningless as scar tissue formed from the gallbladder removal. But I doubt it. Something happened over the christmas period to upset my innards, and I really need to know what's going on. I'll make an appointment with my GP tomorrow morning and let you know - it'll probably begin with a blood test to ascertain liver function, and we'll go from there.

Second stressor ('stresser'?) is The Husband's job. I won't go into details but he's working on a short term contract for a world famous financial institute and they're giving him grief. He received an email on Saturday morning that sent him pacing up and down, up and down, chewing his fingernails to the quick and, frankly, panicking. He couldn't sleep Saturday night, he had trouble last night and it's been conference calls to try and save the situation all morning. I've never seen him like this. He left an extremely wellpaid job in the City last August with a view to getting contract work. But then the economy imploded, people were being laid off, he couldn't find work. So when this contract came along, it was a god-send. The money would keep the wolf from the door for a little while. But I'm not sure if it's worth it now - I've never seen him so stressed, not even when I was an emergency admission to the hospital because I nearly passed out with the pain of the gallbladder infection (mind you, I wasn't much aware of anything then).

He's panicked now that the client will think he's useless, and that the company who has employed him will think he's useless and won't want to use him for future contract work. We'll have no money and everything will fall apart. So, yesterday, in spite of my health concerns, I looked at job vacancies online and found a part-time job in a town 15 mins away by train working in the Heritage sector (which I'm trained in). It doesn't pay terribly well but it's part-time, it's in an area that I'd like to get back into and it'll bring a bit of money in. I sent in my application online and the closing date is end of February. I'm terribly over-qualified for it but, what the heck, it's worth a try.

I didn't tell The Husband I was applying for the job (or even that I'd found one) until the application had gone in but he was shocked at what I'd done. He said that the situation wasn't so bad that I would need to look for work just yet but I think, on the quiet, he was grateful.

I have to say, though, at times like these I'm pretty glad I don't have children. When employment situations and health seem precarious, it's good to know there aren't other smaller lives dependent on you.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

5 Interesting Facts about Belgium

I have been challenged over at Belgian Waffle to find 5 interesting facts about Belgium and then write a poem about them.

Below is my effort - please be kind, at least I fulfilled the brief:

Oil painting was invented by Jan van Eyck
Eddy Merckx was the world's best rider of the bike
The last Mexican Empress was a belgian, Charlotte
24 million Ecstasy tabs annually - it's a lot
And the Belgians brew 800 kinds of beer
And drink an average 150 litres per person per year

(All facts found at Interesting Facts About Belgium)