Doodles in the margin from an artist living and working in the Scottish Borders.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Piece of Cake

...Ho bloody ho.

I got an email from Matt Craig, West Midlands comic dynamo, before Christmas asking if I'd be up for entering the Eagle Intiative comic competition, which closed yesterday. He was drafting a story when he was taken ill rather dramatically (hope you're still recovering well, Matt) and told to rest up.

The idea of entering had rather struck me, though, so I wondered if I couldn't set about writing a story of my own which I could then draw up. The short version is that I could and I did, the long version is that from the first scratchings of an idea to inserting the final speech bubble on GIMP took over a month of long hours. I dithered over whether I could get an action sequence into one page or would have to stretch it out over two, and I'm glad I managed to keep it to one because I was working up until Saturday night and wouldn't have fancied having to complete a whole extra page with the Monday deadline looming.

Anyway. Is it the Very Best that I can do? I tend not to think anything I do is quite as good as it should be, but I think it's about as good as I could get after giving myself a rather squeaky deadline. From what I can gather, something like half the population of the planet has entered, so I'm not holding my breath waiting for the Winner's cheque to plop through the letterbox, but stuff it - I wrote it, I drew it, I lettered it, I learned some things, and I finished it to the dealine.

So that's why it's been nothing but an extended musical interlude for weeks on end.
Anyway, it's called 'A Piece of Cake.' A few random panels to meet Rosie:
(I should say, before it goes all Richard Keys, the disparaging 'just a girl' remark in the first panel is not editorial, and indeed its disproving is part of the story.)

Music on Monday: No Geese Farts

...just some devillish fingerstyle guitar from Leo Kottke.

In the 1980s, Kottke developed serious wrist problems, something like carpal tunnel syndrome, which jeopardised his whole career and forced him to radically reinvent his picking style. Just watching this rampage through John Fahey's Last Steam Engine Train gives me cramp.

He gives good anecdote, too, even if the pleasure is the journey not the destination. Bob Dylan's book Chronicles details a meeting between the two musicians in the 1970s, which was news to Leo. This clip also contains a rare clue as to why Kottke never made it as a trombonist.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Music on Monday: That's Some Bad-Ass Farmer.

Bo Diddley was, in his time, a Lover, a Gunslinger and a Lumberjack, but also, and less snappily, a Pioneer in the Integration of Race and Gender in a Musical Environment.

Bass player Debby Hastings led his band for twenty-five years, and when Bo was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, it was with Hastings alongside him. Before that there was Cornelia 'Cookie' Redmond, a backing singer small in stature but big in personality who became an integral part of his on-stage show, including a snazzy line in repartee.

"Bo," Cookie would say, "you look like a million dollars."
"I do?"
"Yeah, you look like something I've never seen before."

Peggy Jones, 'Lady Bo', was a fantastic guitarist and singer who was an integral part of Bo Diddley's band and sound between 1956 and 1962. She taught herself Diddley's unusual tunings and style, and to list her work is to list some of his biggest hits - Say Man, The Story of Bo Diddley, Mona, Hey Bo Diddley, Crackin' Up, Aztec, Roadrunner. None of them would have sounded quite as they did without Lady Bo.

When Jones left the band, audiences missed "the girl" and so Norma-Jean Wofford stepped into her dizzying high heels. Also known as 'the Duchess', she was mentioned in the Animals' The Story of Bo Diddley as "his gorgeous sister." (I was going to say she was 'immortalised' by the song, but it's not like she was sitting quietly counting on a bunch of herberts from Tyneside to get her noticed.) The 'sister' thing was just a line Diddley put around; "we did everything together. She was like family, which was why I told everyone she was my sister." Another reason Diddley gave for this was that "it put me in a better position to protect her out on the road." The favour ran both ways; it was the Duchess who Diddley trusted to look after his money. (He could have done with her in the early 1970s, when he signed away all his copyrights with Chess, a decision that literally cost him dearly the rest of his career.)

And here she is, wearing a characteristically understated outfit and standing shoulder to shoulder with the great Bo Diddley in guitar-slinging bad-assery.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Music on Monday: And What's That Tune He's Always Whistling?

"When I was a kid, I had a neighbour that we all wondered about.

"But everybody has a neighbour that they wonder about.

"And then you grow up and you're the neighbour."

When you can be old like Tom Waits the whole concept of youth seems overhyped.

(Speaking of only knowing a couple of things about your neighbours, at my last house we had a neighbour called Eddie who had a beautiful retriever called Troy [Derby winner, 1979.]. The last summer, I borrowed a book from him and when he called round for it I was out. He signed the note he left on the back door 'Alan.' I'd been calling him Eddie, often to his face, for four years.)

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Swing Out, Sister

These days you just don't see middle aged religious ladies in extravagantly floral dresses slashing a solo out of a white Gibson SG quite often enough.

Happy Rosetta Tharpe Day.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Music on Monday: Stuck Inside of Mobile.

If the Penguin Cafe Orchestra defies categorisation - and there really isn't another group quite like the Penguins - then that's not an accident. The PCO was founded by cellist Helen Liebmann and Simon Jeffes, after Jeffes' experiences with classical and rock music left him dissatisfied with the rigidity and limitations of both forms. There may never have been a Penguin Cafe at all, though, had Jeffes not crossed paths with a tainted shrimp.

"In 1972 I was in the south of France. I had eaten some bad fish and was in consequence rather ill. As I lay in bed I had a strange recurring vision, there, before me, was a concrete building like a hotel or council block. I could see into the rooms, each of which was continually scanned by an electronic eye. In the rooms were people, everyone of them preoccupied.

In one room a person was looking into a mirror and in another a couple were making love but lovelessly, in a third a composer was listening to music through earphones. Around him there were banks of electronic equipment. But all was silence. Like everyone in his place he had been neutralized, made grey and anonymous. The scene was for me one of ordered desolation. It was as if I were looking into a place which had no heart.

Next day when I felt better, I was on the beach sunbathing and suddenly a poem popped into my head. It started out 'I am the proprietor of the Penguin Cafe, I will tell you things at random' and it went on about how the quality of randomness, spontaneity, surprise, unexpectedness and irrationality in our lives is a very precious thing. And if you suppress that to have a nice orderly life, you kill off what's most important."

This principle held up in the music. Telephone and Rubber Band arose out of a faulty telephone exchange through which Jeffes was attempting to make a call. Hearing the ring tone and a busy signal at the same time, he recorded it on his answering machine. Music For a Found Harmonium was composed on a discarded harmonium he came across in a back street in Tokyo.

If in some alternative universe no-one (Lloyd Loar, Adolf Rickenbacker, Merle Travis, take your pick) had invented the electric guitar and classical music was left to evolve pop music of its own accord, then this is what it would sound like. Melodic, charming, moving, always fearsomely accomplished and irresistible.

Mariah Carey* would have to learn the violin or shut the f*** up. And that would of course be no bad thing.

*A probably dated cultural reference to be sure, but that much annoyance from the Queen of Pointless Vocals has a half-life of centuries.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Brian #4: An Inspector Calls

Ofsted. Welcomed into schools like a snot and vomit virus.

It was always fun trying to match up to whatever was the Unswerving Orthodoxy in teaching practice at that particular time. In general, new Unswerving Orthodoxies came around on a three year cycle. The pupil's white board, for instance, to be used in interactive starter activities at the beginning of lessons. Firstly starter activities were mandatory, then they were strongly recommended, then they were abandoned, and there were store cupboards full of piles of whiteboards.

The whiteboard was interesting but fabulously impractical. And, being double-sided, meant that you could show the teacher the correct spelling of "receive" and the pupil behind you "cock", complete with a bus stop penis. I would have, anyway.

In ten years I was only visited once, which I was not overly upset about because I hated being observed. It was a Key Skills lesson and out of the two disaffected sixth formers in my class one was skiving. So when the inspector walked in I was sitting at the computer with an autistic kid slowly devising a customer service questionnaire for him to use in his Business Studies. We did it for forty minutes and the inspector sat and watched. I hope he was impressed, but I never found out.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Reply To This Email To Get What You Deserve!

I like to keep up to date with my spam, checking in periodically to see what's in the spam folder, who's trying to sell me replica Viagra I couldn't tell from the real thing even with this new degree I've just brought, and so on.

But then, stone the crows, a cuckoo in the nest, something so obviously important that some stupid ISP provider's algorithm has stuffed it unthinkingly into the bin. I mean, look who it's from, for heaven's sake:

Anti-Terrorist And Monitory Crime Division
Federal Bureau Of Investigation.
J.Edgar.Hoover Building Washington Dc
Customers Service Hours / Monday To Saturday
Office Hours Monday To Saturday:

Okay, yes, they can't spell 'monetary' and don't seem sure about when they're open. But look, it could be an American English issue, or, or - they could be Monitoring Crime, and important information like FBI opening hours is probably secret. You could have terrorists just, like, walking in.


Hello? Me? Go on.

- Series of meetings have been held over the past 7 months with the secretary general of the United Nations Organization. This ended 3 days ago.

Blimey. That sounds all high powered and serious. And I can't remember the name of the UN Secretary General either. But what's it got to do with me?

- It is obvious that you have not received your fund which is to the tune of $9.8million

My favourite tune! You know, I haven't received the fund, now you come to mention it. I'd have to check to see if I've got nine point eight million dollars in my bank account - well, it's only £6,287, 768 so I might not have noticed.

And look, it's only been three days. If it's in the post, we've had some pretty bad snow the past few weeks. I'm not going to start ringing FBI customer services yet. Quite apart from anything, I don't know when they're open.

- you have not received your fund which is to the tune of $9.8million due to past corrupt Governmental Officials who almost held the fund to themselves for their selfish reason and some individuals who have taken advantage of your fund all in an attempt to swindle your fund which has led to so many losses from your end and unnecessary delay in the receipt of your fund.

Past government officials have held my fund to themselves? The bloody sods. Is it this government just past? I read 'The End of the Party' and it made me pretty angry, if I'd known they were not only fibbing about weapons of mass destruction but taking advantage of my fund in order to swindle my fund I'd have been livid. That's my fund! It doesn't surprise me in the slightest that the United Nations and the FBI have decided in series of meetings to give me nearly ten million dollars out of the blue. I deserve that fund.

- The National Central Bureau of Interpol enhanced by the United Nations and Federal Bureau of Investigation have successfully passed a mandate to the current president of Nigeria his Excellency President Goodluck Jonathan

Goodluck? I'll say so! A-hahahahahahahahaha! Sorry, go on

- a mandate to the current president of Nigeria his Excellency President Goodluck Jonathan to boost the exercise of clearing all foreign debts owed to you and other individuals and organizations who have been found not to have receive their Contract Sum, Lottery/Gambling, Inheritance and the likes.

Hm. I put a tenner on the last Grand National, but that came up at the time. And the year before that I won the Grand National sweepstake at work, but I wouldn't say that was gambling, really, I just pulled a piece of paper out of a buff manilla envelope. Ah! Wait! Just wait a - yes, I did once put a free ten pound bet on Obafemi Martins to score a hat trick. He's Nigerian. That was three years ago, mind. He's finally done it, has he? He bloody didn't when he played for Newcastle.

- Now how would you like to receive your payment?

Now we're talking! Is cash out of the question? I don't trust banks.

- ATM Card: We will be issuing you a custom pin based ATM card which you will use to withdraw up to $3,000 per day from any ATM machine that has the Master Card Logo on it and the card have to be renewed in 4 years time which is 2015.

But what if I find things like ATM cards, touchtone telephones, sliding doors on trains and adding 4 to 2011 confusing and mysterious?

- The ATM card comes with a handbook or manual to enlighten you about how to use it. Even if you do not have a bank account.

Oh, excellent. Because like I say, I don't trust banks, they're only after your money. I've got a bit of a nose for people who are just after your money while claiming to be helping you. What's the alternative?

- Check: It would be mailed to you via UPS.

What's wrong with the Royal Mail? I told you, it's not their fault, it's the snow.

- Because we have signed a contract with UPS which should expire by the end of January 2011 you will only need to pay $135 instead of $420 saving you $285 So if you pay before January 31st 2011 you save $285

Six million quid and now you're saving me nearly three hundred dollars on top of that! I've got tears of gratitude running down my cheeks, really. You guys!

- Take note that anyone asking you for some kind of money above the usual fee is definitely a fraudsters and you will have to stop communication with every other person if you have been in contact with any.

Whoa! I will! You saved me a lot of trouble there. I was talking to some widow who was trying to get my details so she could pay her philanthropist husband's fortune into my account, but she can bugger off now. It was only $5,000,000 anyway. (Straight into my bank account, though - you might want to consider that.) I'll stop communicating with everyone else I know, too, like you say. I expect you're watching my emails, too, being the FBI. Oh, wait, of course you're not - winks, taps nose.

- Also remember that all you will ever have to spend is $135.00 nothing more!


- Nothing less!


- Below are few list of tracking numbers you can track from UPS website to confirm people like you who have received their payment successfully.

Name : Donna L. Vargas: UPS Tracking Number: 1Z757F991598420403 (

Name : Rovenda Elaine Clayton: UPS Tracking Number: 1Z757F991596606592

Note: everything has been taken care of by the Federal Government of Nigeria, The United Nation and also the FBI and including taxes, custom paper and clearance duty so all you will ever need to pay is $135.

You know what, it would be rude of me to even think about checking up on things with the Federal Government of Nigeria, the UN and the FBI involved. It actually said "UPS could not locate the shipment details for your request. Please verify your information and try again later." It could be just the website playing up, though. Websites do that sometimes - I know, I'm pretty internet-savvy! So, even if I've not got a bank account, but I've got $135 in cash in my Special Jar all ready to go, where do I send it?


Whoa. I had my Special Jar all parcelled up in brown paper and covered in stamps. Is my face red!

- The actual fees for shipping your ATM card is $420

What? You deceitful, thieving ba -

- but because UPS have temporarily discontinued the C.O.D which gives you the chance to pay when package is delivered for international shipping We had to sign contract with them for bulk shipping which makes the fees reduce from the actual fee of $420 to $135 nothing more and no hidden fees of any sort!

You are radiant with goodness. Mind you, couldn't you just send me the check minus the $135? No?

- To effect the release of your fund valued at $9.8million you are advised to contact our correspondent in Africa the delivery officer HON.SENATOR MARK DAVID

Wow. An honourable senator and in capital letters too. I see he's got a Yahoo email address, which I would have thought was a bit odd for a government minister, not to mention that he's got time to have a second job as a delivery man for UPS. And being one of at least nine Mark Davids in the Nigerian senate, it must make internal mail a bit of a nightmare.

- Because we are so sure of everything we are giving you a 100% money back guarantee if you do not receive payment/package within the next 24hrs after you have made the payment for shipping.

Yours sincerely, Miss Donna Story


Well, a money-back guarantee, a name - a woman's name at that - and that address repeated, all in crediblity-increasing capital letters. I'm emailing the honourable senator right now. Is Paypal all right?

I notice too, Donna, that you're a Miss. I confidently expect to be rather well off very soon. So, you know - now you've got my email address, stay in touch. I'd love to hear what it's like being an FBI agent, it must be very exciting. I'll be sitting right here, waiting.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Music on Monday: Crowd Bleezer

Somewhere, there's a Wild West town without its schoolmarm. The children mill about, snot-crusted and ungrammatical. A reformed gunfighter looks for her in vain because she's taken the town's one horse and a poetry anthology and left to join a band.

Probably the best album I heard last year was Leave Your Sleep by Natalie Merchant; a collection of poems (by Ogden Nash, Christina Rossetti, e e cummings and Edward Lear among many others) displayed jewel-like in a variety of musical settings, and given shape by that voice - precise but sensual, effortless yet powerful. It's an apt title for the album, as it turned out, because the chorus to Adventures of Isabel got so thoroughly into my head it stopped me sleeping properly for a couple of nights.

It's difficult to convey the quality and breadth of the music on the album, but her own description of how it was made gives a good idea:

"I have always loved many different styles of music but had barely scratched the surface of those genres on my own recordings. This time in the studio I really wanted to experiment so I called on some of the most accomplished musicians in Cajun, bluegrass, reggae, chamber, and early music, jazz, and R&B, as well as Balkan, Chinese, and Celtic folk. Some were old friends and some were artists whose work I had admired from afar, such as The Wynton Marsalis Quintet; Medeski, Martin & Wood; The Klezmatics; members of the New York Philharmonic; LĂșnasa; The Chinese Music Ensemble of New York; The Memphis Boys; Katell Keineg; and Hazmat Modine. The sessions were recorded in live ensemble settings to capture a fresh and spontaneous energy; they were some of the most magical experiences I’ve ever had making music."

If you have a half hour to spare then this is a link to a concert of songs from Leave Your Sleep, and an explanation by Merchant of what the whole project is about. And on her website there's a fantastic selection of rehearsal and recording footage. It is magical. What a talent!

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Work Like Hell, Boy!

Happy 2011!

I begin with a courtly bow and a small, excited jig towards Laura Cameron, who, while distracted by Christmas lights and a particularly good day on the advent calendar, agreed to be my wife. She is a fine woman of many exemplary qualities, and an excellent jeweller, so go and buy her stuff, because she has a neurotic bum to support now.

In the spirit of New Year, New Seriousness, I actually sat down and read some advice on how to use your blog - sorry, online presence - more effectively. Give it some direction. The gist of it seemed to be to decide what you want, what the audience want and deliver it - straight line. And don't, I inferred, faff about leaping between photography, anecdote, a comic, three weeks of music videos and then a cartoon cat.


I'm entering a comic strip competition - the Eagle Initiative - (and from what I can gather from the internet, who bloody isn't) which has to be submitted at the end of January, and I've written the story, redrafted the script five times and sketched out each page but only just begun drawing the proper finished artwork. Yeek. I wanted two pages done before January began. So I'll be cracking on with it from now on.

It's the first outing of a character I've had rattling around in my head for about two years now, and who I've become very fond of, so it's been a rush and unexpected but fun, too. I was working on something just for my own amusement, a story inspired by a song and the work of Mike Mignola. I thought I can either sit around waiting for that invitation to draw a Hellboy story, or - you know, just in case it doesn't happen - draw one of my own. It's called Downbound Train and once I get this competition entry complete I'll get back to drawing the final page and adding the dialogue. There's a panel of Mignolaesque creatures shovelling bones into a steam train boiler that I particularly like.

This isn't it - I'm saving that...

I found out about the competition through Matt Craig, who was writing a story but was taken rather unwell just before Christmas. All the best to you, Matt, and wishing you a speedy recovery.

So: a competition to be swamped with entries, some seriously intimidating judges and a deadline like an oncoming train. Better try to start the car and get off the crossing...


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