Posts in True Stories
Selda Bagcan

Selda Bagcan.  This Turkish Singer-Songwriter’s name brings shivers down my back. Good ones. Fusing Turkish Folk with a bit of Psychedelic Rock and Funk, her songs are full of both tradition and activism.

Born in Southwestern Turkey in the late 1940’s, she picked up the mandolin at an early age and later on, began to play other stringed instruments and to sing.  In the 1970’s some of her strongest work was recorded. Focusing on the plights of the poverty stricken and the rights of journalists, she became a sort of champion to those who were struggling. Never shrinking from the truth, she was arrested several times in the 1980’s and her passport was confiscated due to her politically-charged lyrics.  Yet she never stopped writing and performing, and some of her music has been sampled by Dr. Dre and Mos Def.

In everything she sings, the many colours of her voice strike through to my heart ( I love her guitar riffs, too!).  There is pain, anger, softness, sentiment, and a deep sense of her love of the land.  For me, her music is haunting, motivating, challenging, and encouraging.

Although written long ago, the stories she tells are real and dauntingly relevant today.

Here is a link to one of my favourite songs of hers, Yaz Gazeteci Yaz (Write Journalist Write).

The Last Unicorn

For some reason I had never heard of this animated film until I moved to Germany, where it usually comes on tv over the Christmas Holidays. A Rankin/Bass production from 1982, it features the voices of Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow, Angela Lansbury, and Christopher Lee. The band America performed some of the main songs for the soundtrack.

I loved this film from the very first time I saw it, and on the surface I found it a bit strange that it was being played during the holidays, instead of a more “classic” children’s Christmas movie - say, like, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer (also a Rankin/Bass production).

It is dark and scary, and many people seem to remember being scared half out of their wits when they watched it as young children. I can imagine why.  The journey is long and dangerous, and at times it seems as though having any semblance of hope is simply too much to ask.

Without giving too much away, the focus of this story is not on the sort of romantic love that is only shared between two people.  It is the sort of love, support and respect that every living thing should have in common, which is emphasised.  I find it especially beautiful during these short dark days (erm, in the northern hemisphere), and now it’s perfectly obvious to me as to why it’s on tv this time of year.

Looking back on 2017 there were many dark and scary moments that were survived by brave and hopeful people.  Now that 2018 is here, let us share even more hope and light with each other, regardless of who or where we are.

Happy New Year!

 

If you have time for it, here’s a link to the lovely animated story of The Last Unicorn:

Madonna Inn

Madonna Inn is just off of Highway 101 on the central coast of California.  Growing up only a few miles south of it, this particular establishment never failed to keep me enchanted when I was little.  Every now and then I go back home for a visit and I'm always delighted that it's still a bit offbeat, a little bit crazy, and a lot of fun to look around. Click "play" to have a listen...

A travel blogger seems to have discovered it's kookiness. Click here to read.

Kulning is Beautiful

Kulning is beautiful. An ancient art of herding calls used in Scandinavia, it is usually used by women in order to call herds back home after a day of grazing.  Women were most often the ones tending the herds and instead of roaming the high mountain pastures, they could call out through the valleys with this most haunting of sounds.  The cows, sheep, or goats (each has a special call, as they react differently to the sounds) being called would make their way back home.

I was able to hear some live examples in the Royal Festival Hall a few weeks ago during the Women of the World festival.  Johanna Bölja Hertzberg and Ulrika Bodén gave a stunning performance of the high-pitched vocal art that is a part of the deep folk tradition in Sweden.  Their otherworldly singing washed over the entire hall in a way that I will never forget.

It’s a bit difficult to describe so I have attached below a youtube link to a short video of Joanna Jinton performing. The cows are lovely too.

Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace is a rather crazy place to visit. Hidden away in Southeast London, it is a blend of 1930’s Art Deco, Medieval and Tudor architecture. It was first recorded in the Domesday survey of 1086 as the manor of Eltham and it grew in size as many royals frequented it up until the days of Henry the eighth.  It went out of fashion and over the following centuries it sadly fell to ruin. The only surviving building seems to have been a great medieval banqueting hall.

Until millionaires Stephen and Virginia Courtauld found it and decided it would be the perfect spot for a country pile - not directly in town but close enough to easily reach London. A new mansion was designed, which was connected to the banqueting hall (or rather, the music room). Its exterior was cleverly made to look much older, while the interior was drawn up as one of the most fabulous art deco homes in the UK!

The final product was the height of fashion, modernity and elegance. Legendary house parties were held there with royalty, film producers and musicians like Stravinsky staying over. The house had central heating, a loudspeaker system, internal private telephones, and a centralised vacuum cleaner (very cool). Virginia’s pet Lemur even had it’s own heated quarters and enjoyed biting guests at random.

The rooms and bathrooms were luxurious like no others - meant to mirror the Cunard style of ocean liners of the time, everything was plush, smooth and streamlined.  The entrance hall became so famous that it’s been used in many films and TV shows (Poirot fans, please note photo below).

The gardens are dreamy and expansive, evocative of the past with a moat and ancient bridges spanning across ancient outer walls.  It’s perfect for a summer picnic.

Although an odd jumble of eras, this place is haunting (if not thoroughly haunted already) and well worth a visit in the sunshine when the gardens are at their best. And the house, well, it’s always at it’s best.

  Image Source, National Trust

Image Source, National Trust

Children of the Stones

Having been a small child in the 1980’s, I was very excited about the prospect of watching “The Box of Secrets.”  It did nothing less than to captivate me in full.  There were a lot of fantasy films and stories floating around back then, and this is certainly a long-forgotten favourite of mine. I put it on and was immediately taken into a strange Christmassy world that might not exist (but I hope it does somewhere).  After that, I was advised that I might also like “The Children of Green Knowe.”  This was new to me and also quite a bit of fun, but not quite like “The Box of Secrets.”  After all - the first love is the first love, right?

Then came the suggestion for “Children of the Stones.”  This is not a Christmassy story but oh my was I hooked! It was made for children, produced in 1976 and is one very spooky journey!  The other evening I spoke about it to an acquaintance who had seen it when he was ten. He said it gave him nightmares for quite some time after.  As I am no longer ten so I thought I might be able to watch it without having the same reaction.  I ended up having a wonderful time trying to figure out the whys and wheretofores (am prone to being easily entertained).

All I can say is that there is an ancient English village which is surrounded by neolithic stones, rather like Stonehenge…

If you have some time over the coming holiday season, kick back and enjoy the retro storytelling and cosmic, ever so slightly scary adventure that Children of the Stones has to offer.

p.s.  You’ll need about 2.5 hours and maybe some whiskey/eggnog etc. and cookies within reaching distance.

The Old Los Angeles Zoo

The picnic area of the old Los Angeles Zoo is in a hidden corner of Griffith Park.

After having read about it on the Atlas Obscura website, I knew it wasn't something to be missed. They said you could eat your pack lunch in the old abandoned cages!

You would never know that a zoo had once been there, but if you pay attention it's easy to find.

When I arrived mid afternoon, everything was a bit creepy. The old leaf-filled and graffiti'd spaces for animals gave off a lonely feeling.

Also there was some sort of preparation for Halloween going on, with a few of the cages being used for gory scenes. Only occasionally did I see anybody walking around. Speakers had been placed around and were playing weird and vague "horror" sounds.

The stage was certainly set, as these old cages haven't been used for many years. It was built in the early part of the 20th century and left empty in the 1960's, when the current Los Angeles Zoo was opened.

It's a beautiful place and although it was a hot sunny day, I was spooked all around. I ate my lunch and high-tailed it back down to the car.

I had a wonderful time letting my imagination run away with me and I will certainly go back someday - with someone else so I don't spook myself out again!

Radio Brockley

Radio Brockley isn’t in Brockley.  It’s in the famous Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital on Brockley Hill in North London. Completely run by volunteers, it is London’s longest running hospital radio station.  Many hospitals in the UK have their own radio stations, which are there for the patients’ listening pleasure!  Back in the olden days (before everyone had the opportunity to entertain themselves with TV/their own personal devices),  larger medical centres developed independent radio stations so that patients wouldn’t be stuck in silence all day - or stuck with the random beeps and bells one tends to hear down the halls…

Anyway, the variety of music and programs is impressive.  They are not bound by playlist regulations and so they can play most anything! Request shows are on every night, and they even do a show called Bedside Bingo.  Also, the show “Alpha Sessions” is a super series of interviews with up-and-coming musicians (more about that later).

Radio Brockley is a registered charity and depends fully on funds raised by members.  This year, which is their 50th, they were awarded in four categories of the annual Hospital Broadcasting Association.

They make a point of providing a personal and inclusive entertainment service to the patients, as many travel from abroad especially for treatment and don’t have many visitors, if any.  After all, where else can you hear “The Bare Necessities”, followed by a Frank Sinatra song?

I recently was interviewed by The Alpha Sessions and found the concept of hospital radio to be inspiring (they gave me a cool coffee cup too). This radio station is run by truly dedicated people who love music and who support an incredibly noble cause.  May they long continue their inspiring work!

Check out Radio Brockley here:

http://www.radiobrockley.org/home

Check out the Alpha Sessions interview with Hazel Iris here (my three fav phrases seem to be “like”, “umm”, and “you know”):

A Perfect Day

The sun was shining high in the sky without a cloud coming to steal the show. This is a seldom occasion, not to be taken for granted. After a quick breakfast, we hopped into the car and fired up the tiny old engine.  Then we were off like a herd of turtles in our little green thing.  There was a warehouse designer furniture sale to get to, and a queue to join.

Parking was easy to find, as it was early yet.  One of us joined the queue and the other went off to find coffee. The one who went for coffee came back empty-handed. Too early for the foodie market, they were still setting up. So we queued together in the sunshine. We could wait.

Finally the doors opened and all of the people in front of and behind us ran for it, grabbing tabs and claiming first dibs on sofas and shelves and things. There was nothing we wanted so we took off.  Did we wait for nothing? Perhaps. Although simply having the luxury of time to wait in the sunshine was, well, a luxury.

With the long-awaited coffee and a chocolate twist in hand, we wandered through the maze of the Southwark streets.  When it’s quiet enough, you can hear the other generations still at work and going about their business.

After that came a picnic and nap in a sunny garden, accompanied by a neighbouring cat who seemed to think that our lunch was hers by right. It must have been the tuna and tomato sandwiches because she completely ignored the cider.

A trip up north of the river was next on the agenda.  After a train ride, a tube ride, and then lots of walking, we received our wristbands and became one of the anointed.  Catching a few late afternoon acts and grabbing a spicy bean cake and plantain wrap went hand in hand with a generous amount of people-watching.

Time passed and the perfect sun began to set as we stood on a balcony, waiting for the last act to begin.  The air became cooler and the sickle moon danced its way into view.  Finally we went inside to hear and see the spectacular way in which Anna Calvi fused vocals and guitar into one - a perfect way to end a perfect day.

It’s only August, there must be room for more.

I can feel it in my bones.

Pollock's Toy Museum

There is a tiny world of wonder and past childhood delights.  It is called Pollock’s Toy Museum and it lives on a quiet corner in Fitzrovia, London. Mainly a collection of Victorian toys, the upstairs museum has dolls, doll houses, teddy bears, tin toys, folk toys, puppets, toy theatres and toys in general from around the world.  Some are pretty spooky-looking but I suppose they weren’t at the time they were made, and it’s definitely part of the fun now!

Originally a printing shop dating from the 1850’s in Hoxton, Benjamin Pollock hand printed, constructed and coloured much of the toy theatre material housed in the museum today.  Just over  a hundred years later, the museum was established north of Oxford Street.

There is a shop on the ground floor and stepping through the door, you immediately enter a very different world to the one on the street. It feels as though you’ve gone back in time or wandered onto a period movie set.  There are vintage toys of every kind - masks, tops, jack-in-the-boxes, games, puzzles, books, mobiles, zoetropes, and they are to be found in every nook and cranny. There are lots of nooks and crannies.

Everything in this shop is fantastic (even some rare Star Wars toys have found their way to some shelves).  Each item is special and evokes long-forgotten memories (or makes you wish you had some memories about playing with a toy like that).

There is also a Benjamin Pollock’s Toy Shop in Covent Garden (which you enter after climbing an old narrow staircase!), but the museum with its ground-floor shop is well worth discovering.  You feel as though you have the place to yourself and you can’t help but leave with a smile on your face whether you have something in hand or not.  At least, I couldn’t.

http://pollockstoys.com

Dungeness, Kent

Dungeness, Kent is strange, spooky, and lonely. As a visitor you could be standing in a ghost town in the desert but really, you’re on the southernmost point of the Kent coastline. The wind blows, the water is choppy and you’re standing on gravel and small stones. The light is weird.  I didn’t smell the sea.

Abandoned boats and fishing huts lie on one of the longest pebble beaches of the world, with a huge energy plant looming in the background. It feels as though it is dry but there is an amazing nature reserve, where plant life (over 600 different types), wild birds and invertebrate animals are studied.

Lighthouses have been built here since the early 1600’s as the headland is extremely dangerous: the sea has been retreating over the centuries, leaving the shoreline to grow slowly but surely.

There is a small village. Really small.  There are a few scattered houses occupied by fisherman and others who just want to be away from crowded society.  The late artist and film maker Derek Jarman built a house here.

It’s a wild place and it’s left me feeling truly haunted.  I’ll go back again sometime to take some more photos, eat some fish and tank up on the strangeness factor.

Piano Lesson

The other day I meandered down memory lane.  It led me to piano lessons. Always (for the most part) on time, I would knock softly on the door to Mr X’s teaching room and enter with a certain amount of trepidation. You see, I never really practiced enough.  My technique was horrible. I didn’t have the patience to do the drills the way I should.  Scales and finger exercises were torturous and I wasn’t too keen on practicing them religiously.

Until that one day. It was possibly raining. Very Drab.  In that particular session there was a short phrase I just wasn’t getting right. The notes were all there but no music was coming out of my fingers. Poor Mr. X was becoming more and more impatient.  Finally he stood up and went to the window.

He stared out of it.

I stopped playing.

Not bothering to turn around, he sighed and said “play it again”.

The rest of the session continued with me playing the same phrase over and over again while he sighed and stared out the window.

This was much worse than when he would become angry.  It was absolutely excruciating. I deserved it.

A repeat of that day’s lesson was not something I ever wanted to live through again, so I quickly re-thought my practicing strategy.  It was about the energy. Scales and such were back on the menu in a different kind of way!

In the end I had exams and I passed. It was without a doubt by the skin of my teeth but I was simply happy to have them behind me.

It’s been a while since then and thinking about it has inspired some nostalgic ambition. Scale book coming off the shelf in 5, 4, 3, 2, ….

PIano-Lesson-Image
PIano-Lesson-Image
Misfortunate Tales

This weekend marks the release of my EP (mini album, if you like) on Marvellous Records. It is called Misfortunate Tales and was produced and mixed by Andrew Hunt. In the hallowed halls of the Music Producers Guild he is known as "the man with the golden ears".

It was mastered (given radio quality sound) by Mandy Parnell.  Having her do the mastering was amazing because she is simply one of the best in the world and not many women have broken through in that particular profession.

There are five songs on this EP.  It’s very much a collection of individual pieces - of dipping my toes into differing styles and sub-genres.

Mountain Top is a darkish fairy tale, taking place in a music box-like forest setting. Sometimes when we dream, our movements can seem mechanical and our perception of light is skewed.

As for Darlin',  it's possible we've all been there at some point in time and in some form or another: lusting and simmering for that which is just beyond our reach.

Watterson is about a great-great grandmother who lived before my time, around the turn of the 20th century.  A sort of slow motion, overland sea-shanty came to be. Motion, it’s always in motion.

No Name Western? Definitely inspired by spaghetti westerns and the music of Ennio Morricone. Also by 70's martial arts films.  A bit of quirky retro fun...

Bring Out Your Dead was shouted out along the streets of London (and other cities) during the times of the Plague. A simple and basic sound that still echoes in some corners if it's quiet enough.

Right, so that was a basic tour of this EP. As to the details of the stories and styles behind each song, I leave them to you and your imagination!

iTunes Spotify Amazon

16th Summer

The other day I was thinking of my 16th summer.  I remember it as being warm but that could just be nostalgia and sentimentality taking advantage of the situation.  Drivers Licences were fresh and new. We used to to drop off our little sisters at their afternoon swimming lesson sessions and then go to our favorite secret (kind of) beach.  It’s at the bottom of a residential area that rests on some cliffs, so not too many found their way to it.

We already had our bathing suits on, so we parked and then skipped down the stairs to the narrow strip of sand.  Dropping our towels and shorts on the rocks, we ran straight into the water.  Cold. It was cold but oh so nice!  Swimming a short way out and then back in again was rewarded by just floating on the salty surface, with the occasional piece of kelp floating by.  There is a big rock out in the water that resembles a huge fin.  I would give myself the shivers, imagining that some horrifyingly large, pre-historic shark lay in wait for anyone who dared to swim out into the ocean…

Lying on our towels, we drip-dried and warmed up in the late afternoon sun.  The light was always golden with a tinge of orange and red.  There was always a slight breeze but it was never cold and always salty.  Everything was salty.  We would watch the other people on the beach as they dipped their toes in the water or went straight over to the tide pools.

Before we knew it, the hour was up and it was time to go back up to the car and collect our sisters from the pool again.

Come to think of it, it was probably only a two-week period. Yet in my mind it was forever and it was never better.

Sally Mae

My mother said she didn't exist.

How could she know that for sure? She'd never met Sally Mae.

Sally Mae was the same age as me. She was taller though. Her hair was longer and it was a light caramel brown. Mine is dark brown.

I knew she lived in the house on the hill at the top our street. My mother said she didn't. I don't remember if I met her on the school playground or if she was playing in her front yard as I walked by.

I've just checked google maps, and her house isn't there anymore. A new house now stands on the same spot.

We only met once or twice anyway. We talked and laughed. I remember her dress. It was a white sundress with blue straps. I think her eyes were blue. Mine aren't blue. They're not brown either.

It was such a long time ago. I was often alone but not often lonely. Maybe my mother is right - maybe Sally Mae was an imaginary friend.  It doesn't really matter though does it?

I remember her.

Toy Shop

A friend recently had a baby, giving me cause to go to one of my favorite places ever - the local toy shop! I never really got over toys. There was absolutely nothing like grabbing some figurines and making up some stories. You could give them funny voices and their own languages. You could go billions of miles and countless time warps away, all within the perimeters of your own bedroom, or under the kitchen table, or if it was nice outside, in the back yard!

So off to the toy shop I went. They have amazing books, games, kites, toys, dinosaurs (see photo) tutus, shoes, chewbacca t-shirts (all of which are too small yet all of which I would have worn as an outfit at one time) and arts-and-crafts-y-things.

This store is so great that children cry when they leave. Seriously, I haven't been there once when a crying child isn't being cajoled out of the door by its good-natured parent who probably needs a proper cup of coffee/cocktail by the time they're finally out. This last visit was no different.

I realised that the baby is too small for toys as yet so I found something soft and cuddly and lovely.  The cuddly thing has been passed on to its new owner, but you can bank on the fact that the next time I get the chance to buy a toy I'll definitely set the timer for twenty minutes of playtime before wrapping.

The Lost City Under The Dunes

I grew up hearing tales of an ancient Egyptian city that was buried deep beneath the dunes a few miles south of our town. There are around 35 square miles of them (dunes, I mean). In 1923 Cecil B DeMille premiered his silent film “The Ten Commandments”.  The whole Hollywood set was filmed outside of Guadalupe, CA. It included an Egyptian temple, a dozen plaster sphinxes, eight huge lions, and four 40 tonne statues of Ramses the Second.  It had taken over 1500 carpenters and more than 25,000 pounds of nails to build.

After the shoot, DeMille had the set destroyed (by way of dynamite). Bulldozers buried the whole kit-and-kaboodle in the sands in order to make sure that nobody else could steal the set. Apparently it was too expensive to haul everything back down to Hollywood.

For over sixty years it all remained buried under the sand and became more of a local legend than anything else.

After various attempts to find it, some patient seekers finally spied it out under “the dune that never moved”.

Now Hollywood artefacts are slowly being dug up and out.  I’ve already begun to daydream about how fun it would be if everything were to be put back together again…definitely worth a visit!

You can find out more here:http://dunescenter.org/visit-the-dunes/dunes-center/exhibits-and-activities-research/the-lost-city-of-demille/

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