November: a Levellers double-whammy!

On the first of November, I belatedly got my “spooky” on, and went to a brilliant Halloween party at Hagglers Corner, a wonderful arts venue set around a courtyard. My friends’ band The Hot Diamond Aces were playing. The band combine funk with Afro-beat and jazz and are, as they describe themselves “the ultimate party band”. They are amazingly talented musicians with a gift for getting the audience’s feet moving. If you like infectious grooves and hot horns, then they’re your thing. This sounds like an advert, but they really are that good! We had a fantastic time, dancing and drinking real ale in our costumes. Angelina had particularly scary latex zombie make-up, but it all peeled off when she started dancing!

As the weather got colder, and the nights got darker, I managed to fulfil one of my artistic aims for the year and completed my triptych of three canvasses for my dining room wall. They are all collages, and all Neil Gaiman quotes, to inspire me as I live and work. Now the pictures are up on the wall, they look great and really make the room vibrant and arty.

The first collage is from the Sandman graphic novel Brief Lives , and it’s all about change. The quote, cut out of newspaper letters, ransom-note style (which took blooming ages!) is positioned around concentric circles made of gold wrapping paper and a green collage, made out of cut-out pictures from the RSBP’s magazine, Nature’s Home, including an otter (the otter isn’t green!), and a green lighter which was found in the stomach of an albatross! The other smaller canvas has the quote: “Writing is like flying in dreams”, from the front page of Neil Gaiman’s short story anthology Smoke and Mirrors. This canvas has pictures of birds, from Nature’s Home magazine, and also real feathers, gathered over the year.

Finally, the huge canvas has the slogan “Make good art“, which was the theme of Neil Gaiman’s speech to Philadelphia’s University of the Arts graduates when receiving his honorary doctorate in 2012. Since giving the speech, the video has become viral on the internet, and has also inspired a lot of beautiful artwork. Mine is just one example! Before I left my sensible 9-5 job and ever since, I have listened to the speech at regular intervals, and I’m listening to it right now. His advice and experience is priceless and reflects everything that I’ve been through as a creative person. I wanted to create a piece of art that would inspire me and cheer me up when I lost faith in my way of life, so I cut up festival programmes for images to remind me of the times when art and creativity have created the most thrilling experiences and memories. Life would not be worth living without the creativity of others – or your own creativity. And I’ve been lucky enough to build a new career out of creativity, which is truly amazing.

Make Good Art

Make Good Art

This November was also about seeing the Levellers twice as well! The first time was in Birmingham, en route to another gathering of Oxfam stewards in Tewksbury. Louise and I did battle with rush-hour traffic and the one-way system of Birmingham, and we only missed a few songs by support band, the legendary two-tone band, the Selector. Singer Pauline Black is full of attitude and sharply dressed, and the other singer, Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson was also very energetic – so much so that his suit was dripping wet by the end of the show! I enjoyed having a good skank, dancing around until Louise managed to find Fraser. Oxfam friend Alexa was also there, and it was a great mini-reunion.

The Levellers were on great form, blasting through their “Greatest Hits” set. The O2 in Birmingham was packed, and people were crowd-surfing to the front – mostly middle aged men, re-living their youth! We had a great view of everything from the side, right near the front, and we danced around being silly. I didn’t even mind that all I could drink was a couple of shandies.

After dropping Alexa safely off home, I drove Louise and Fraser to our log cabin weekend in Tewksbury! We got there safely, to find the others enjoying the end of their party, which for some reason involved Hawaiian shirts and grass skirts. I was exhausted though, after all that driving!

On Saturday morning, some of the others were busy having a watersports session on the lake, which involved a giant swan-shaped pedallo, canoes and a wind-surfer! I love doing things like that, but for once, I was pleased that I hadn’t signed up for watersports. Even though the participants were wearing wetsuits, it looked very cold. So Clare, Jez and I went for a short walk, and we were rewarded by finding a £10 note on the grass verge, which we took straight to the pub!

After a leisurely lunch, a group of us went for a wander around Tewkesbury and the Abbey. Tewkesbury Abbey was really special and spiritual – I don’t think anyone could help but to be moved by such an ancient, beautiful building. The atmosphere of the golden stone and soaring arches was enhanced by a rehearsal of the Elgar concert, A Dream of Gerontius. Wandering around with the sound of the instruments and voices reverberating around the Abbey was very moving, and as we sat in the pews to listen to the singing, I even wrote a couple of haiku poems. Susie Morley has the only copies of those, as I wrote them in her notebook!

Walking down the medieval streets in the twilight afterwards, I started to feel Christmassy, and the decorations were already up in the half-timbered pub where we stopped for a couple of ales, before heading back to our log cabins at Croft Farm. The staff there served us up a lovely meal, and then we had a brilliant disco, fighting it out using Spotify to choose the songs we wanted. We had a particularly stupid time dancing to “Ra Ra Rasputin”, pretending to do Russian dancing on chairs! Towards the end of the night, I even managed to put on some old goth songs!

On Sunday, we drove into Tewksbury again, and I bought an awesome Russian army greatcoat from an antique shop (I must have been subliminally influenced by “Ra Ra Rasputin”!) We had a lovely lunch at a big Wetherspoons pub, all the Oxfam volunteers sitting along a really long table we cobbled together from several little ones. Eventually, it was time to head for home.

The week afterwards, it was time to do the whole Levellers thing again, for Kirsty’s birthday! This time, we caught the whole thing, really enjoying The Selector. We got much closer to the front for the Levellers, and the Sheffield O2 seemed very busy but much less packed than the Birmingham gig, so we got a great view from the front, while still being able to comfortably dance around. The Levellers are a band that have a very close relationship with their fans – I think I’ve had conversations with all of them, and certainly camped in the same field with them at Beautiful Days. Being at a Levellers gig feels like being part of a big tribe – it felt like that when we were sixteen, and it still feels like being truly with kindred spirits, even twenty one years later.

I can’t take credit for these pictures – Kirsty took them, because she’s taller and has a steadier hand! I think she did a fine job.

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A delicious day

Steamy - vegan chilli with parsnip chips!

Steamy – vegan chilli with parsnip chips!

On Saturday, I attended a course run by Animal Aid, to learn to be a vegetarian cookery demonstrator for Animal Aid. The animal rights campaign group have a network of speakers and cookery demonstrators who work with schools to explain the vegetarian and vegan issues. It was great to meet other veggies and vegans from Sheffield. I was made very welcome at the session at Sharrow Old Junior School, and I even learned the secret of making coffee with soya milk, without it curdling. We had some great discussions about why we stopped eating meat, and the arguments for becoming vegan: animal welfare; distress and pain of animal slaughter; environmental and health reasons.

I decided to become a vegetarian in 1990, when I was thirteen, after watching a programme about factory farming. I’ve always loved animals. As a child, I loved meat, but I decided to give it up, and even in the early 90s, there were lots of meat substitutes such as Linda McCartney sausages! I still remember the argument I had with my mum while walking around Safeways (that dates it – who remembers Safeways?) as she thought that I shouldn’t give up fish while I was a growing girl. I loved fish too, but when I went to university, I decided that I needed to do this whole vegetarian thing properly and I never really missed eating fish at all. Two years ago, I realised at last that the dairy and egg industries are just as cruel as the meat industry. I became vegan for lent, and I decided that I’d carry on being vegan. It’s not always easy – there are so many milk and egg derivatives hiding in products, and eating out can be a bit of a minefield. However, my diet is a lot more healthy now I’m not eating all that fatty cheese – and I feel like I’m making a difference! Turning vegetarian as a teenager turned me into a keen cook, and I love to cook for friends – so I’m keen to show young people how easy it is to cook vegetarian and vegan food. I’ve only ever cooked meat about twice in my life, and I didn’t enjoy it!

Our cookery teacher Lizzy, also runs her own vegetarian cookery school, ourlizzy.com. She was very friendly and led the practical sessions on making a vegan chilli and a sausage and bean casserole. We ate the chilli for lunch – it was delicious!

I discovered that talking and cooking at the same time isn’t as easy as I’d thought! There’s a lot we’ll have remember to explain when we’re volunteering in schools – talking through the ingredients and how to cook them; the importance of a balanced diet; the wide range of veggie products available in the shops; the reasons people become vegetarian and vegan, and the health benefits. We took the leftovers home with us. Check out more of Animal Aid’s recipes here.

Stop Drop Robot

Stop Drop Robot

Afrobeats sing in the firelight!

Afrobeats sing in the firelight!

But I wasn’t going home yet – I was going to Hagglers Corner, to a one-day charity festival for Mackenzie’s Miracle – fundraising for a little girl battling the childhood cancer neuroblastoma. The weather was fairly cool, but dry, with bursts of sunshine – a relief to everyone after the non-stop rain on Friday. The arts centre has an open courtyard that’s ideal for events, with gazebos in case of showers. There’s a cafe-bar, and a beautiful beamed room upstairs which is a great music venue, as long as tall people don’t jump up and down – as some of the beams are quite low! Almost as soon as I arrived, I joined in with a Kuduru dance session, led by my friend Angelina, who runs the Mulembas D’Africa dance school. Angelina had also been roped into being the announcer for each act and she was doing a great job. The Boomshanka Bellydancers also did a great job, and there was some graceful dancing from Pansy Cheung.

The bands were a great selection of Sheffield talent, especially in the area of great vocalists. Bongo & the Souljar gave us soulful songs with vocals reminiscent of Paul Weller. Stop Drop Robot combined great singing, heavy guitars and electronica. As the evening grew dark and people started dancing, Unscene were a big hit with their acoustic reggae vibes – vocalist Jammy really blew the audience away in particular. As the firelight in the courtyard started to flicker, Afrobeats provided a magic moment with their acapella African singing and dancing. Audrey Horne features Allstar Revolution vocalist Diddly Dee, tonight, giving Karen O a good run for her money, with shoegazy guitars and epic soundscapes. Definitely a band to watch.

As it got later, the music moved indoors, but there were still people in the courtyard, chatting around the open fire. The night brought lots of Sheffield creatives and music fans together and I met lots of great people, as well as catching up with old friends. The festival had a real family feeling and made me feel very proud of Sheffield. Later, there was reggae and D’n’B upstairs with a couple of great MCs. Playing late at night in the cafe was singer-songwriter Pro-verb, definitely one of the evening’s highlights. Combining rap, spoken word and insightful and funny lyrics, this young artist is set to go far.

I had so much fun at this tiny festival. It was a big success and I hope that there’s another one before too long!

Things this blog is about…