Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Liverpool in the '80s

Pete Burns outside Prone, about '84


When I was a kid I would spend all my free time in Liverpool, it was a proper city, not like Chester - which was twee and very middle class, but big - scary - bold and quite ugly. Liverpool in the late 70’s and early 80’s was a very threatening and exciting place. It was dirty, busy, unkept and ridiculously exciting. It was also utterly working class and had a diverse, mixed population of races and colours. It was also hard and cold. The wind over the Mersey Estuary was bitter all year round and the city seemed to have been designed to take a beating from it. The old architecture from the time when Liverpool was the centre of world trade was still florid and bold, but caked in soot. New building was ugly, flat and generally without much real merit - often the wrong kind of showy - topped off with a Cathedral that looked like a spaceship and glowered down at it’s older, more solid but no less revolutionary partner. There was dirt everywhere, and decay - it was a run down city that didn’t seem to know what it was for anymore. The North was dying, the 80’s were very cruel. Despite being offered a place to study at Liverpool School of Art I decided to move down south to London - I wanted a future that didn’t seem to be on offer to me at home. Most of my friends moved to Manchester - a more manageable adventure. They could scuttle back home if the wanted to, or if things go too hard - I was determined to make my move permanent and cut away any safety nets. Liverpool always was an angry, militant place - and that demonstrated itself in so many ways.

Yesterday, I was very sad - but not surprised to learn that Pete Burns had died. He was 57, recently he’d started to look pretty terrible, years of messing with his body and depression seemed to have turned him into a bloated, confused, angry caricature. It was a shame. That’s not how I remembered him. When I was in my early and mid teens he worked in a record shop called Probe, a semi derelict building on a corner that was once (and is now) a very fine example of proud Victorian city architecture (It became a Ted Baker store in the 90’s and is now an expensive restaurant) It was a dump - full of posters, T shirts, racks of records and merchandise. In those days vinyl was a fast moving commodity and the shop was always fully stocked and always busy - you generally had to ask for something by name - the staff would have been the only people who knew where anything was. Burns (and his wife - Lynne - they married at 19) both worked there, she told T Shirts ‘round the side’ and he ‘owned’ the counter. He was taller than me - a big, strapping figure with a taste for ripped clothes, big hair, tribal makeup and huge boots. Often wearing a version of something he’d seen in a magazine, later with dreadlocks made up from fake hair bought rom an African stall in the market (cultural appropriation wasn’t a ‘thing’ then). He was the epitome of ‘larger than life’ in every possible way. He was also hard as nails - bold, angry and upfront. He took no prisoners and was equally rude to everyone - and seemed to do very little actual work.

Lynne and Pete would stomp around Liverpool without any fear - and everyone let them pass, they were just too ‘out there’ to worry - and that was very much what I liked about Liverpool - it still is a culturally rich, diverse city full of personalities that are too big to mess with. Now it’s become a very beautiful city again - much of the finer architecture has been restored and the swathes of new retail are not really that bad - there are countless museums and the river is put to good use. I really do miss living there - I had a second attempt in my 30’s - but in truth - you should never go back. Now that Burns is dead, although Probe is still there (In a different location) - it will never be the same - he might have been just a metaphor - but he was the past, my past - and it’s all gone now. Burns himself left Liverpool in the late 80’s and bought a house in Notting Hill with some of the money he made in Japan - it was a strangely dull, suburban affair - regardless of the way he looked, he was never an ‘interiors’ person - people would remark that it was actually quite nice but a bit disappointing.

If you get the chance to watch the film ‘Letter to Brezenhev’ - it gives you an idea of what Liverpool felt like at the time - it was a very poor, but very proud place. And full of peacocks.

Monday, 24 October 2016


I spent the weekend cleaning the house and getting ready for winter - putting summer stuff away and clearing out clothes that either don’t fit or don’t suit me. It took about 2 days and I still have about 2 more days to go. I need a lot of dry cleaning but I can’t afford it - I’ll have to make do with sponges and crossed fingers. I never fail to marvel at how much dog hair my two they shed - it’s like something from a horror film.

I have a lot of quite ‘big’ jobs to do - and then a lot of ‘huge’ jobs - both of which cost money and are quite hard work. I’m putting them off.

I’ve started getting letters from people trying to sell me special offer insurance for the ‘over 50’s’ - full of pictures of smiling geriatrics - with false teeth and stripped T shirts, sailing off into the sunset on a small yacht. Apparently I’m old now and I need the reassurance - this includes always having my picture taken smiling and holding a coffee cup as if my life depended on it (in reality - it maybe my only source of heat). Most of them talk about the money I can leave after I’m dead. I have news for them. I don’t care. They can fuck off.

Today, of course, I should have been starting a new job - if I hadn’t had the common sense to realise it wasn’t the job they promised me and was actually a bit of a nightmare. I’m really glad I turned it down - no matter how grim things are (and they are grim) - it was the smartest thing I’ve done in years. I don’t think people realise just how badly paid teaching is - I would have ended cup having to turn down work all year - to be paid very little, to do an incredibly hard job - for no thanks, under very difficult situations. Basically being asked to paper over the cracks. I would also clearly be paving the way for someone to come in from the outside to take advantage of all my hard work. I left teaching last time because it was impossible to tell students they were getting value for money - it’s much worse now.

I accidentally forgot to cancel a subscription for a picture library on time and I’ve been billed for the whole of next year - they have given me 60 days free as compensation - but that’s not the point, I’m quite angry with myself.. ‘quite’ probably being the wrong word.

I’m very wrapped up with trying to get a Creative Quarter / District established in Claremont - it’s going to be a lot of work and a lot of politics but hopefully it can raise the professional profile of Hastings so that we can attract more work down here - rather than constantly apologising to people because I’m not in Brighton or London. We really need to get this working - I hate ‘putting myself out there’ but it’s something I need to do, or at least start - someone else is bound to step in if they think they can profit from it all.

A friends mother died this week - I cleaned up and retouched a load of photographs for her so she can create an order of service for the funeral next week. She was brought up in North Liverpool - the photographs were very much of their time, and strongly - it could have been my family in them - they looked so familiar. Everything from the clothes to the hair to the environments - even the types of photographic paper (always ‘Boots’) and faded orange and brown hue to everything. I can take exceptional quality photographs on my phone, but they are almost disposable - back then every images was important - they cost too much and took too long to process to be anything else. There must be billions of digital images out there that are lost and forgotten, and have no value - because nobody will ever look at them again.

I didn’t eat properly last week, didn’t have the time - and ended up with stomach ache all weekend as a result. I went for a drink on Friday night for friends’ birthday, which was very nice, but I spent 15 quid and went home in a bad mood. Could have been worse. There was a man in the pub, clearly a big drinker - who was in a lot of pain because he’d met two women in a bar the week before, both as drunk as him, and gone home with them for some kind of strange sexual encounter - and woken up covered in bite marks. He was now in great pain because they had all gone septic. we tried explaining the plot of ‘Dawn of The Dead’ but he was too far gone. The barman called him a taxi. Typical Hastings.

I am owed money at the moment and have a couple of jobs that I know are coming in - which makes up for the lack of funds in the bank right now and the urgency to pay a few bills - and my insurance - so I shouldn’t feel so grim - perhaps it’s a Monday thing.

In other news, and it’s a strange one - Natalie Bennet - former leader of the Green party, is following me on Twitter. Not sure why - I never tweet.

Thursday, 20 October 2016


It’s been a long and eventful week - and quite stressful - hence the silence.

As an aside - we have LED street lighting where I live - which is great, I love it - but walking the dogs in the dark mornings and evenings is a nightmare  - as I can never see where they have ‘been’ and it’s let to a few accidents already - I’ll start carrying a hand sanitiser. I also HATE the dark mornings - I wear mismatched clothes and socks and more than once have been to work in odd shoes or with my jumper inside out - I don’t see my house in daylight now until the weekend - it’s depressing.

My stress levels over the last couple of weeks have been pretty high - I was approached and ask to be course leader of a design degree with an almost immediate start - (Monday, actually) but after some digging about and some straight questions - I found that it would never really have been the job they described, the money would have been terrible, it wasn’t something I could ‘fix’ - no matter how hard I worked - and the politics would have been immense. I would probably have to turn down more work than I could afford (It’s a Part Time position) and ended up financially much worse off. I also think I was being taken advantage of, because people are used to me bailing them out and saving their bacon. Getting a bit pissed off with that now. My finances are a disaster and I have very little money coming in - but I’m not prepared to ruin my health and mental state to paper over the cracks of someone else’s disasters.

All this week I have slept badly and eaten rubbish as a result of the stress and uncertainty , should have been a clue to me that it was really a non starter. I would have loved to do the job they described - but that wasn’t the reality. Not even close.

If I’m a bit quiet at the moment - I generally post on Instagram most days  - link over on the right.

Monday, 10 October 2016


Last week was long and hard - but good.

I did some bar work and managed 12 hour studio days - it’s now that time of year when I no longer see the house in daylight. Work is going well and I’m getting by. The packaging I designed for Dyke and Dean has arrived and it looks fantastic - really happy with all that. Additionally, I designed a brand for a kids character accessories range called ‘Glitzy Glamour Puss’ - 2 degrees and 20 years experience - and hell yes, I’m proud of this.

Some of the packaging inshore

On Saturday - I went to a wedding, sort of - I was invited, but I usually hate weddings and nobody likes single people at events like that - I’d have had a very depressing time and probably got drunk - it was the son of the couple who own the building I work in - and the bar below - I work with him quite a bit - he’s one half of Dyke and Dean, and his girlfriend, who was one of my students a few years ago. Her dad played bass for David Bowie and her mum was a model who can be seen in the Film Tommy as The Queen Of Hearts.  Additionally, when her dad left music he went into carpet fitting, became the ‘carpet fitting king’ and even ended up being the first contractor in the real ‘Hotel Rwanda’ after the conflict. So, as a compromise - I ran the downstairs bar for them - the wedding being split over 2 floors - they actually got married in the alleyway outside, creating an actual church with aisles, an alter etch and a grass floor - with a lot of shrubbery and lovely lighting. It was probably the best wedding ever - a really happy occasion with a lot of very, very happy people. The grooms mother - who is a great friend - cried for about 4 hours straight. In a good way. I think everyone cried at some point. The bar was absurdly busy - I worked from 2pm until midnight. Best day’s work I have every done. Including the part where the bride claimed over the bar to kiss me. They are two of my favouite people - so for one, a happy ending.

We’ve already been talking about xmas drinks in the studio. We’re having a ‘bonding’ drink on Wednesday.

The weather is still fantastic - cooler - but the sun is still there. It's bonfire night here on Saturday.

Monday, 3 October 2016


Today - despite being clear and sunny - was a very cold morning - followed by glorious sunshine, unless you were in the shade - where it was still cold.I should have worn gloves to cycle to work. A mistake I’ll try not to make again.

I had stomach cramps again today - the only time in my life I’ve ever had stomach cramps was when I was out of hospital and they gave me an anti-inflammatory called Naproxoren and I didn’t go to the toilet for 3 weeks. I never want to experience that ever again. I also had a terrible headache - mid afternoon I began to wonder ‘is this how it ends’ and then I realised it was more to do with the cold morning and vague memories of neuralgia.

Work was a nightmare - very difficult day - Monday’s often are. To top it off, I had an email later in the day from an old client suggesting I meet up with a new designer that are using and have taken under their wing and give them a ‘leg up’ and introduce them to useful, successful people. I get that a lot - it really, really pisses me off. I might as well just give them my house and access to my bank account

I had a meeting with someone a year older than me who’s career is literally about to end (senior software developer) and he’s considering anything that comes his way. Not something I am looking forward to.

Tomorrow I’m helping out at a student fair - from 4pm until 11pm spread across two floors of our building, I’m looking forward to serving drinks to 18 year olds about to embark on a huge personal debt and an almost worthless qualification - in the vague hope that one day - when they hit 50, they may be serving drinks to students for £8 per hour.

My main task tonight will be to somehow pay a years council tax. I will need to concentrate for that one.