All posts in Music

  • Hopping Happy: Life, Love, and Lindy Hop

    It may surprise some of you to know that I have very few inhibitions. Okay, that doesn’t really surprise you. Those of you who know me well are fully acquainted with my outspokenness, my grandness, my gregarious and very personal dress sense, and my predisposition for stylish headwear (whatever the occasion might be). I like to think that I don’t only transition, but ‘sashay’ from one stage of my life to the next. You see, at heart, I am a musician – a jazz musician, to be precise – both literally and metaphorically speaking. Rhythm and syncopation are innate within me, and I have always had recourse to music whenever I’ve felt happy, or sad, or bored, or just plain hungry (which is most of the time). When I was a teenager, I went through a phase of writing jazz and blues songs. I have never been able to play an instrument (not for fault of trying), but I have always loved to sing, and I still sing, even though my songs aren’t as good as they used to be. The first NW LP was definitely the best, but that’s by the by.

    Anyway, I have very little spare time in which to sit down and write songs these days. Sometimes I get a tune in my head when I’m travelling to and from the library, or while I’m out on a run, but that sustained ‘composition’ time just eludes me. So I have to be content with enjoying the music of others, and I do enjoy it – loudly, energetically, and enthusiastically. Music is in my heart and in my lungs, but it’s also in my body, and I can never seem to stop it from doing its thing whenever I hear that beat. Back in the summer of 2012 I started a Lindy Hop class run by the fabulous ‘Gypsy John’ of the Cinque Ports Lindy Hoppers, but unfortunately I had to give it up when I started my PhD. I always intended to go back, or to start a new class somewhere, but never got round to joining one. Last November, when I was in New Orleans, I went to a couple of Zydeco nights and learnt how to dance ‘Cajun. It was great fun, and it reminded me how much I had missed dancing with a group of people, learning new things, and celebrating the music in my life. I was determined to start dancing again when I returned to the UK, and, a few months ago, Julian and I joined Swing Patrol in Old Street.

    Although we’ve not attended many classes so far, we’re having great fun learning the kooky dance moves, and have pretty much mastered the 8-count and 6-count basics, as well as the Charleston. We’ve also had the opportunity to meet, and dance with, lots of other fun-loving, uninhibited, and ‘musical’ types. Sometimes we’ll be at home and I’ll stick on some Count Basie or Glenn Miller and we’ll attempt to practice on the carpet of our tiny living room. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to go social dancing soon, and I can swing out in my best swing dress (I have a good few to choose from, after all). For now, though, I’ll keep practicing, and I’ll leave you with a snapshot of my fabulous classmates doing their thing at last night’s Swing Patrol class.

    Swing Patrol, Old Street



    I can heartily assert that I’ve always been big on pageantry. On one occasion, when I was about four years old, I was wandering around the stockroom in the charity shop where my nan and granddad then worked and I happened to fall upon this bright pink, sequinned dress (I say ‘dress,’ but I’m not quite sure what it actually was, though I have been told that it was most likely some kind of modern dance costume.) Needless to say, I loved it, and my grandparents were forced to part with the couple of pounds that the shop would have sold it for. I used to love getting this costume out and putting on the sparkly pink arm warmers. Sometimes I used to eat my dinner in this get-up (to me, there was nothing unusual about this). This, I suppose, set the tempo for the many fancy-dress and themed parties I was to have throughout my childhood and into my adolescence, right up to the present (I haven’t yet decided on a theme for this year’s event, but rest assured that there will be one!) I could recount many other examples on this score, but I would need to dedicate an entire post (and some) to the effort. I would like to conclude this little jaunt down memory lane, however, by recalling the moment when I discovered Mikhail Bakhtin’s Rabelais and His World. At the time that this book fell into my hands, I was just about to leave university and embark on a Master’s course at King’s College London. It was unlike anything I had ever read and it was all that I really wanted to read; in short, I found it utterly cool. In this world (the world created by the Renaissance writer François Rabelais), Bakhtin envisions a carnival that is so grotesque that it renders its participants equal through a kind of levelling laughter. In this world, masqueraders don costumes that allow them to transcend the ordinary social barriers that proscribe their daily lives: jesters become kings, and kings become fools.

    A lot of time has passed since I first read Bakhtin, and while I think that his theory of carnival and masquerade continues to offer interesting insights, these insights do little to inform our understanding of what carnival is really like in the black Atlantic world. Over the weekend, for the first time in my life, I went to the Notting Hill Carnival. For me, it was a beautiful experience, and encapsulated all of the things that I love to do: dress up, eat, drink, and dance. It was also, and indeed primarily, a learning experience. My knowledge of carnival – of its intersected and diasporic history, of the people that have kept its traditions alive and channel the politics that underlie it – has expanded over the past year, and what I have learnt has infused my conception of our persistently segregated world. As a white woman that studies black history, I am reminded daily of the need to step outside of myself and see myself as a seer, as someone that makes a career out of discussing a history that is not my own, but which I am nevertheless passionate about. In this way, my going to carnival was not just about ticking something off of a list, but part of an ambition that I have to deepen my understanding through lived experience.

    This experience sadly coincided with news about Miley Cyrus burlesquing black culture in a sexually degrading dance routine at the VMAs, and served only to reinforce my belief that we all need to do a better job of understanding and learning about each other. When I was getting ready this morning, I didn’t hear much about Miley or the VMAs on Radio4’s ‘Today’ programme (it being Radio 4, I guess), but I did hear a discussion about the recent LSE report whose research found that children in inner-London schools were not in any way hindered by the presence of foreign-speaking children in their class. No, I thought to myself, not hindered, but enriched. I don’t want my children to grow up sheltered from such experiences and only hearing me talk about them in the abstract, and I hope very much that they will get to share them with me, so that we can continue learning together. Next year marks 50 years of the Notting Hill Carnival. Let’s make it a big one.



  • Life, Liebster, and Love in 11 Questions

    A little under a week ago, my friend Toni messaged me to tell me that she had been nominated for the Liebster Award, which recognises the achievements of small blogs. I can’t think of anyone who might deserve the prize more, personally. Toni has a fantastic blog all about food. I know what you’re thinking: for the record, it’s not ‘just another food blog’, but is abundant with tasty inspiration, and I urge you all to check it out at

    Part of the award’s criteria is that the award winner has to name 11 other blogs that they would consider nominating for the award, thereby effectively ‘paying it forward’, and offer those 11 bloggers 11 questions to answer. Toni was kind (and perhaps deluded?!) enough to count me amongst her 11; so, without further ado, here are her questions for me, coupled with my responses:

    Vanilla or Chocolate ice cream?
    Chocolate. Bitter is better.
    Elvis Presley or Johnny Cash?
    Oh no, now that’s not fair. Why do I have to choose? I love them both. I love country and blues, but also rock and rockabilly. Right now, at this moment in time, I’d say Elvis. But that’s probably only because I recently discovered this guy, who is simply amazing: Can’t wait to see him at the Goodwood Revival this year.
    Photography or Illustrations?
    Photography, but nothing that I produce myself. I love to create, to make things new with my hands, but have never been a keen illustrator or photographer.
    Cookies or Cake?
    Vintage or futuristic?
    Vintage, but nothing that smells musty and nothing that’s discoloured. I like to discover things in charity shops rather than pay £50 for something at a vintage fair that I could have had made new for less.
    Beach or skiing holiday?
    Beach. I don’t care where, just take me there. Now.
    City or country?
    I like to live and work in the city, but retreat to the country every once in a while.
    Comedy or horror?
    Dark comedy…ergo, both?
    Lark or Owl? (Early Bird or Owl?)
    I’m definitely a lark. The early bird catches the worm.
    Your five perfect dinner party guests?
    This is also tricky. How do I do this without upsetting anyone I know? The truth is, there are so many people that I love to have dinner with (Toni and her partner included), so I am going to give you my fantasy list, which includes: Dolores Ibarrurri (a.k.a. La Pasionaria – to whom this blog is partially dedicated), Mary Seacole (a Jamaican woman who nursed British troops – and also kept them well fed – during the Crimean War), Karl Marx (because it all started with him), Jane Austen (so I could ask her why) and Edwidge Danticat (because I don’t need to ask her why). Ok, so four out of the five are dead. I guess it would just be Edwidge, then.
    The one thing that makes you happiest?


  • Life Things


    The time seems to have elapsed again, and we are now in the last hours of June. That means that half of 2013 has already disappeared; gone; poof! I often think about the passing of time, and that’s been especially true for me this last year, but I wonder if that’s perhaps because my life seems to have been marked by so many colossal events over that time. When I cast my mind back to what I was doing this time last year, I almost don’t recognize myself. At the time, I was deeply unhappy in my professional life. While I loved the essence of what I did – working with people, helping them to achieve, and helping them to rebuild their lives – I was disenchanted by the lack of job security, seeing dear colleagues forced into redundancy, retirement, and redeployment situations, and the general disarray of the probation service. Of course, I had never intended to follow a career in probation work: it was never my ‘calling’, but it wasn’t even that. Very gradually, I felt as though my spirit had been ground down, until there was little of me left. Some mornings I woke up feeling sick, dreading the fact that I had targets to meet and professionals to schmooze, and I would fill my calendar with an array of weird and wonderful activities so that I would always have something to look forward to; ‘If I can just make it to the weekend, it will all be okay,’ I would often think to myself. And when I found out that I had been offered a scholarship on a PhD programme, it was as if all my prayers had been answered. But once I knew, I was just itching to start, and began to resent my job more and more.

    Yes, the me of one year ago is bizarrely different to the me of now. These days, I struggle to factor in extra-curricular fun time, and when I do, I feel burnt out, as I have to summon up the energy to dive into my research with fresh eyes and a clear mind on a Monday morning. I struggle to make time to see my family – the people that are most dear to me – and this has been an especially hard readjustment given that I often saw them, if not once, sometimes twice a week last year. I only hope they realize that it’s not because I don’t love them very much. Of course I’m well aware that a work-life balance is important, and I have been struggling to negotiate with this very conundrum over the past few months, but I also know that we can sometimes overload ourselves, and it often takes time to realize that.

    Just over a year ago, I had started going to a lindy hop class on a Tuesday evening. I met some wonderful, happy-go-lucky people, and meeting with them filled me with such joy. I would rush home from work to make a quick dinner before driving out through the country to the Five Wents memorial hall in Hextable, and after the class, I would arrive home again and show Julian all the new steps I had learnt. I have been thinking a lot about lindy hop lately. It’s been nearly nine months since I went to a class, and I really miss it. But it’s no longer the thing that I need to get me through the week. I want to start lindy hopping again (and, preferably, with Julian) but the time will come for that. In the meantime, I have a whole host of interesting things to keep me occupied.

    Weekends should be sacred, used purely for rest and ‘decompression’, although they rarely ever are. This weekend, however, I think I have managed my time pretty well. Yesterday, I got up, worked a little, ran, and then spent the afternoon with family, and the evening with friends. This evening I have played 12-bar blues, and I have blogged. Finally, I watched the sun set on my balcony. New challenges await tomorrow, and I will take them as they come.


  • Mix Tape

    Several years ago, I met somebody that I consider to be a kindred spirit. Fate threw her in my path, but I only got to enjoy her company for a few short months. She had travelled to England from the United States to study on the Master’s programme on which I was also enrolled, but had to return shortly after the end of the spring semester. When she left, I gave her a few mementoes to take back with her (some pressed flowers, and other ephemera), and she left me a mix tape. Well, I say mix tape, but it was a CD. She had put together some songs for me to listen to: things that she liked and things that she thought I might like. Since that time, I’ve been meaning to return the favour, but haven’t. Life, it seems, has always gotten in the way of all of the things that I need and want to do, and it’s been brewing in my mind for a long time. I started to compile a list of songs about a year ago. I would hear things and think, ‘ah, yes, that needs to go on the mix tape’ and would jot them down so that I remembered when the time came. Time ebbed away, and still no mix tape materialized. But then I thought, ‘why don’t I send Renee a virtual mixtape?’ So, I set to work, sourcing the best quality tracks on YouTube, or perhaps simply the ones that I liked the best, and created a playlist. This is that playlist.

    Track #1 – Aloe Blacc, Miss Fortune

    The first time that I heard this song, I thought to myself, ‘this is about Dick and Nicole Diver’. Literature and music are two of the special passions in my life, and I suppose it’s only natural that I should view them in conversation with one another. We all know Fitzgerald for Gatsby, and those of us who don’t soon will, but it’s that other, longer tale that will always haunt me: the tale about the rich and beautiful woman who falls in love with her handsome psychotherapist who thinks himself invincible and loses everything. It’s to Tender is the Night’s heroine Nicole Diver, ‘Miss Fortune’, that I am indebted for my own name. I don’t know if I ever told you that, Renee? In any case, each time that I hear this song, I re-read the book in my mind. I think about Dick…and where he might be now…

    Track #2 – Ed Sheeran, A Team

    On a basic level, this song is about a crack addict, but it also makes me think of Sunset Boulevard and the tragedy of faded youth. The face ‘crumbling like pastries’ resembles the crumbling mansion at the top of Sunset Boulevard inhabited by Norma Desmond, an old silent movie star who winds up a forgotten recluse. It sends shivers down my spine, and I’m reluctant to empathize, in case I end up with a hole in my back.

    Track #3 – Public Enemy, Harder than you Think

    In August last year, London hosted the Olympic games, and it was a wonderful showcase of all the great things that our small island has to offer in terms of art, culture, and sport. This song became the anthem for the Paralympics, and I was reluctant to add it to the list, because of its subsequent over-popularization, but I think that it still encapsulates the great feeling that that time, and those moments, embody for a South-East Londoner such as myself. And Public Enemy rock. What more can I say?

    Track #4 – Flight of the Conchords, The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room

    An odd choice, you might think? Think again. Before Renee flew back to Michigan to get married and finish the rest of her degree from overseas, we went on a trip to Norfolk, and spent the weekend at my parents’ cottage. We visited the seaside in Southwold and bought lots of tasty deli treats, and walked around the Plantation Garden in Norwich following a delicious lunch in my favourite little bistro. While we were driving around, we were listening to Flight of the Conchords.

    Track #5 – Shakespeare’s Sister, Stay

    It occurred to me as I was putting this mix tape together that there wasn’t really much that spoke to Renee here. So I thought, ‘Renee liked going to The Globe when she was over here: there just has to be some Shakespeare’s Sister!’ So here they are, in all their short-haired, scary, early-nineties glory.

    Track #6 – Sugar Hill Gang, Rapper’s Delight (Long Version)

    Renee knows why. I had no idea that there was a version that was fourteen minutes long though. Yes, that’s right, FOURTEEN MINUTES. It’s partly due to the length of this track that I’ve only included 8 tracks, instead of 10 (I have to imagine that I am creating a real ‘mix tape’, after all). There are some gems in here, notably: ‘Hotel, motel, holiday inn; if your girl starts actin’ up, then you take her friend.’

    Track # 7 – Silvio Rodríguez, Fusil Contra Fusil

    I first heard this song when I went to watch Che: Part One with my dad. Ever since, I have been simply mesmerized by it. One day, I would like to learn how to play guitar like that.

    Track #8 – MC Solaar, La Belle et le Bad Boy

    Because it’s just awesome, and because I think Renee will like it. A lot.


    So, my dear, this is my gift from me to you (via the world). I hope you enjoy it: