Writings, photos, politics and rants... *Original content - may not be reproduced without my consent.*

Saturday, 22 August 2020

Blue Peter, Uncle Bulgaria, and selling stuff to kids...

Someone posted this picture of their collection of Blue Peter Annuals on Facebook today. 

Nowadays, I'm definately more interested in old comics and musical and cultural and personal vomiting on social media, than today's very broken politics (though, I'm not completely divorced from the political bubbles and commentary on events). 

I had some of the earlier, 1970's Blue Peter books. They, like Look and Learn, and the Magpie annual, were superb kids books, arriving on Christmas day, full of photos of the previous year in kids BBC telly/cultural history, and of things to make and do. Their arrival, was a small event in the massive one of a Christmas day full of Rolf Harris, Jimmy Saville (christ, what were they doing to us?), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Top of the Pops, Doctor Who, Morecombe and Wise, Mike Yarwood, Christmas dinner at nanny and granda's , with my great great aunts Emily and Martha with their false teeth sitting beside them, visits to Granny and Granda in Tullylish, and my cousins Ian and Brenda and Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Jackie. 
{the brilliant, Mike Yarwood...

{Emily and Martha, teeth hidden, being photobombed by my Christmas TV tie-in Uncle Bulgaria...

The main toys would be visually stroked and played with and the Annuals, Beano, Warlord, Look and Learn, etc, were night time reading on the bedroom floor, in the landing light cast across the floor through the crack from the partially open door. 

Every Blue Peter annual marked something culturally new, not least the change in the programme's personnel.

Its strange looking back at them, and remembering those change of personnel. Val leaving; the dogs dying; the gorgeous, "modern" Lesley Judd; the hybernating tortoise;  vandals in the garden; Percy Thrower getting his gold Blue Peter badge; Bring and buy sales; Totalisers; Christmas coathanger candle decirations; loo roll Tracy Island; John Noakes doing mad, impossibly brave things and Peter Duncan appearing naked on stage in the Opera House Belfast, and me and my friends laughing at the Paisleyites demonstrating outside as we queued up... Blue Peter, indirectly helping me challenge parts of my community that there was a fear around challenging- and moving from childhood to adulthood. This event is virtually impossible to find references to on the Internet, and Duncans tackle never made it into any annual, but it was an event that had many people of my generation lining up to push through, kick back at, the fascist intimidation from religious, sectarian zealots who were determined to keep culture under a kind of 17th century lock and key. An event my friends and I went on to replicate when we cleared Portadown Town Hall of Paisleyite protestors during a masterbation scene in our interpretation as Acting Strange Theatre Company, of "Once a Catholic." 

{Lesley Judd... Kids TV Purdy

{seeing Peter Duncan's tackle from the front row of the Belfast Opera House with Paisley's followers bellowing in froathing fascism outside, was two fingers at childhood and at those who lived around us who wanted us to live in the 17th century

Blue Peter cultural landmarks in my early, pre-internet life, that really today would be seen as meaningless (the equivalent Duncan nude controversies probably on par with YouTubers selling dodgy stuff or saying something fascist). 

{How many young people nowadays notices a new Blue Peter (or any TV) presenter? Pre-Internet, all of these names made it into our popular culture...

These landmarks were I suppose, because childrens TV was such a small, almost afterthought aspect of general life, disseminated via TV and in particular, the BBC; but its smallness was massive to us. 
It was something that adults didn't sit and watch with us as they were making the dinner or negotiating bombscares on the way home in the Belfast rush hour. John Craven's Newsround, then Blue Peter and then some other "decent, relaxing" programme like a cartoon, or Grange Hill, then Roobarb and Custard... A perfect hour (Play School and Jackanory were never my thing after the age of five or six...) It was "watercooler" culture that united us, that was created for us... Even if it was just the post teatime, "Magpie is better than posh Blue, Peter," snash up the tree at the end of our road. 
Changes in Blue Peter teams and the events; {Cambodia bring and buy sales all over the uk, for  example, a political event that really would not pass the odd "BBC balance" test that our current hegemonic gate keepers use to allow fascists like little nazi Farage on our screens shouting at, dehumanising and demonising refugees who are endangering their lives to escape war, poverty, and imprisoned lives}; had a much bigger, but subjectively similar impact of new editions of a top ranking computer game nowadays. 

Every segment of kids tv, and early evening family viewing from 4pm-9pm were cultural events, the likes of which we dont have any more. Like the slightly later in life indie music and teenage gangs /style in the eighties. 

Is the world like that now? 

Will kids remember as cultural landmarks in their lives, every new design of the football skips sold at them bi-annually? or new iPhone? or the new "set" design their favourite youtuber lounges or dances and sells across?

Kids TV was not designed to sell toys in those days. We werent seen as a market. And in fact, there was a huge debate about advertising toys during kids programmes. Unlike today, when the programme is one long advert. I did have a Monkeys car, A Sooty puppet and a Pluto puppet, a Starskey and Hutch and Kojak car (hardly kids tv), a bionic man and a Fonz... All offshoots of telly programmes, rather than products designed to be characters in formulaic episodes. 

These Blue Peter annuals represent a time when kids tv wasn't sold at us... But was there to entertain and educate. Nowadays, teaching in school, children talk of the brand or the computer game... All parts of a marketing strategy that takes precedence over the cultural phenomena. Marketing that creates forgettable phenomena. 

I think the cultural world we have created for our kids is really not as safe or healthy as the world we left behind in the seventies (though the physical world is, undoubtedly safer). Todays indoor, broadcasted culture has much more going on, but most of it is a sales pitch... creating markets. Not caring or nurturing. It is a world in which kids cultural phenomena are more about selling stuff, and rarely about helping victims of despotic regimes, or cleaning pigeon shit from atop Nelson's Column, swinging on old ropes. 

Greta Thunberg is an exception, but one that was disapeared when covid-19 came to town, and kids are now obsessing over the £100 Burberry mask they desperately need. 

These annuals are superb markers of a time we wanted to create a better world, but ended up with trainer envy, advertising billboards on our kids chests and kids scared of the outside.

Do you think they mark a better time?

Overall, I don't think the times were better (kids, after all were tortured in schools physically and mentally, and many stressed homes were no better... Some of that has changed... At least, there are legislative protections to childhood now) ... But I feel the media has changed from one that delivered a service for kids, and now uses them as marketing subjects... And unlike the tv ratings prompting spin off toys, the incredible power of the social media algorithms are selling sometimes harmful activities and  objects to children whose innocence is stripped away in different, harmful ways than ours was.


[By the way, in trying to find references to the play Peter Duncan was in during the 1980s I've mentioned here, I came across this quote from him. 

"I grew up with it (the Troubles)," he says. "I followed it and was always trying to understand what was going on as a young man. It wasn't called the Troubles for nothing, it did trouble people. I suppose I had sympathy for those who seemed more oppressed than the other. I didn't always like what the British state did. I was understanding of Protestants and Catholics and why they did what they did.

Each time I'd come back and see the change, how different it was," he adds. "Protestants and Catholics have been to the forefront of bringing kids up sharing (their future) and not living in a bubble. That is powerful motivation for not going back in the wrong direction and creating a divide between people."] 

Saturday, 15 August 2020

Letter to Tharg...

2000AD in School

Dear Tharg the Inquisitor of Thales 1,2 and 3, Master of the Timelines, 

Back in '77 I saw the adverts on terrestrial TV, for your mighty organ. In fact, if I remember the adverts correctly, your mighty organ was erected in central London after an intergalactic journey to seed the world with pan-galactic thrills to blow our minds. 

{This letter was letter of the week, this week - wb 31.9.2020!}

I was a late comer, though was filled in by my best mate, who supplied me with the sensual experiences I needed to become whole. He gave me his first few Progs, and that was me hooked. Until I read Halo Jones, after which I found it difficult, at the time to rise to any subsequent attempted thrills as her escape from the drudge of working class life, came to an end. As a working class boy, wanting to escape, I was desperately disappointed not to know if she had totally escaped that GenX like humdrum existence. Nowadays I see it as a reflection of inequality that plagues working class existence. Struggle, mental illness, addiction, used, abused, forgotten. You never totally escape the Hoop, the housing scheme, the projects, the estate. A classic that should be in every high school library. 

I  went into the world without the Prog, for many years … weaving an unsteady path through life, low paid jobs, addictions and then eventually throwing myself into debt to educate myself, becoming a teacher. My venturing out, led me to a kind of escape, but one I hoped would help other young people escape. I think the unfinished Jones should perhaps remain unfinished … Escape is never total. 

In early 2015, I found myself off work on a long term sickness. Stuck at home, with only daytime TV and a bit of beard trimming, I decided to take a stroll through Glasgow, and stumbled upon Forbidden Planet (other great comic outlets are available, though I've yet to find a more friendly, knowledgeable and interesting staff). And there, I came across a whole section dedicated to 2000AD and its past, and of course, The Meg. And there, during that illness, I reintroduced myself to the world's greatest comic. I've almost caught up on all of the stories that have become mainstays, and on some Dredd stories etc. And it has been a brilliant five years doing so. I've also delved into other brilliant stories created by some of those who made their initial career inroads on your pages. Comics are well and truly embedded back into my life, the bedrock of which is 2000AD and the Meg. 

I now run a Comic Club in my school - using some old 2000AD stories, and the Regened issues as the start off point for many of our sessions. One of your brilliant Art Droids, Rufus Dayglo, sent us books for our graphic novel collection, as did the brilliant people of Rebellion (I am @clydewon on Twitter). So I want to thank you all for that. 

I was a "late reader," who only gained the skills to read when my mum introduced me to comics in desperation. Comics were my reading rescue. And 2000AD was a huge part of that, leading me to seek out Harry Harrison, and many other SciFi writers as a young teenager. And Comic Club has already given an outlet to both reluctant readers and children who love imaginative drawing and story creation. 

I'm hoping to try to do something re Comic Club in the coming weeks again, but covid-19 is getting in the way, even though here in Scotland, we are back to school. I'm going to try a work around and create videos teachers can use in their classrooms (I think that is something Rebellion and your good self should consider during these times- videos for kids re skills, story's, story creation, art etc, and with nods to comic activities of the past). 

The Prog at the moment is absolutely amazing. I am, like many, totally engrossed by The Out. Everything Abnett and Harrison do is just so interesting, exciting and beautifully done. Sinister Dexter really never, ever should be retired - their strips, are fun and clever. And Dredd, and the Dredd universe is just brilliant. I don't think that universe can ever be fully explored. 

I am so glad I rediscovered the Prog. I really hope, Rebellion continue from strength to strength … The release of so much back catalogue and reworking  of superb British comic stories has been amazing. 

And thankyou Tharg, for being present in my life on and off and on again, since I was 11. I hope in another forty years, a pupil of mine will send a letter to you, telling you how you had an influence in their lives since their old teacher introduced comics, 2000AD and you to them. 

Forever in your debt, 

Neil Scott


Saturday, 8 August 2020

Scott's Beano and Warlord, please...

As some here know, I'm a comics fan. I wouldn't call myself a comics buff, or collector, but I really enjoyed comics as a child, and love the comics aimed at an older age group nowadays. 

I refound comics in 2015. I had had a really difficult start to that year, and was off work for a few months, and decided to re-engage with 2000AD, one of my old batch of comics I'd bought in the late seventies and early eighties. I don't think young people born from the early nineties onwards appreciate the impact comics had on us, and on society. They really were our "internet," some having facts as well as entertainment - war, science, amazing animals, car facts (in comics like, Bullet, Speed) etc. Analogue YouTube.

Some were "banned" by the Government (For example, Action Comic was phenomenal... Both my cousin Ian and I had the Hook Jaw teeshirt - free iron on transfers were all the rage! ) and the funnies were superb... Krazy comic and Cheeky Weekly being absolutely outstanding (and they have a group on a Facebook Monster Fun & Krazy Comic Fan Site) - my school mate Roy and I were big fans.

Discovering Forbidden Planet Glasgow in 2015, was a godsend. The staff there are superb... They offer advice on authors and series, and i discovered Lemire, Ennis (both) and Gaiman, amongst others, through them. Forbidden Planet was one of those mythical, cult like places you saw a little advert for in comics, when I was little. Friends who had been lucky to go to London and visit spoke of it as an Aladdins cave of wonders for comic lovers... And nowadays, this wonderful luxury is right on my doorstep (well, 3/4 on the bicycle, 25 mins in the car). 

Someone in a Facebook group asked tge grouo (a Warlord Comic Group) earlier, "did you read Warlord or Battle?" I read both. (in the same group, the amazing comic artist PJ Holden described them as the Tiswas/Swap Shop of the comic world - which is a great description. Or the Blue Peter/Magpie... references only fifty somethingsxwill get nowadays, I suppose!) I started with Warlord, though.  Warlord had that extra interactive dimension of code messages, and other friends, who were agents. Me and my mate Clark Davidson used to keep files on people (other  kids) in Banbridge, Co Down, and do training exercises, like jump off his garage roof, camp out and spy on people... We graduated to Bullet, a comic that was meant to be about a more up to date spy, with a pack you could send away forwith an up to date pendant... 
{modern, '70's Fireball (Bullet) secret agent} 

My mother was a cleaner in the local town hall, and I once caused an investigation after messages, both coded and uncoded were found in one of the offices... I had hid them behind town maps etc they had on the office walls Apparently they thought they might be terrorist related ...

"Scott's Beano and Warlord," were the original  order I got every week from Cheryls Shop on the, Newry Road, on my way home from school in the early-mid 70's, and later from Walshes in the town. Though the order evolved into a bundle including Krazy, Plug, Monster Fun, Cheeky Weekly, Battle, 2000AD, Action, Speed and "The War Papers," and many others. To afford this bundle, I went in to mum's work on a Tuesday and Friday evening and cleaned out the ashtrays, emptied the office bins, swept and mopped the downstairs floors and the stairs, and polished the tables and ashtrays. It was all worth it.
Comics were, and are, a brilliant escape. I hated school... I feared school, and I have memories of sitting on a stool in our kitchen devouring Warlord. I'd do a "quick read" at lunch time... A welcome break from the pressures of dodging bullies, adult and child, then Back to school, and then a more detailed read that evening.

I used to copy some of the art... Comics, were an art lesson as well as what brought on my reading. 

I now run a comic club in the Glasgow Primary School where I teach. Comic artist Rufus Dayglo and the publishers Rebellion Comics have helped me stock the shelves with graphic novels. I'm up for buying batches of comics (cheap... Condition isnt a big concern) to bind and to give the kids a flavour of what we had pre-internet. I'm hoping to give comic club members a Warlord style Comic Club wallet this year and membership booklet and badges they had a competition to design during lockdown (I have to source cheap wallets, and need to have a think of what I'll put in the little booklet). - For those who don't know, by decoding a message and sending a 25p postal order, you became a Warlord Secret Agent, receiving a badge, a plastic wallet, code book and ID card. It was great to discover a Warlord Facebook group earlier! 

I've already been teaching the children about codes during lockdown, and made little videos with coded messages at the end (we are back to school here next week, so I'll hopefully be met with decoded messages and I'll be giving out prizes). I'm on twitter as @clydewon... So any comic fans who'd like to help, please give us a follow!

Comics were what made me want to learn to read... I was a late learner.. Dick and Dora really didn't do it for me. Blocks of text, really don't suggest a hidden world to kids. Single page, non-challenging pics and little sentences, didn't do it for me. Little boxes showing naughtiness, and expressions of every emotion, made me want to enter their worlds. Wanting to know what Korky the Cat, Dennis, Roger the Dodger, Peter Flint, Union Jack Jackson etc were saying engaged me, and my reengagement with comics, and graphic novels were a way to re-interest me in reading in 2015...anxiety and depression, got in the way of my ability to concentrate on novels, or books of any kind for a few months. (Forty five years after they engaged me as a new reader , they helped to rebuilt a broken one)... And I really do see the difference the comic club has made to some of the children in our school.

Friday, 7 August 2020

Catcher in the Rye - Holden lives again.

I fixed this little book. I thought it deserved a few more years. It was printed in 1967. I've had it since 1997/8-ish. 
A wee bit of book glue and book tape, and hopefully, it might last another twenty years.
Back in 1997-8 I worked as a Shelter Shops manager. Books came in that were beyond selling. Some I felt sorry for or wanted to read, so rather than dump, I took home. 
This one, I wanted to reread, which I did in 1999 and then reread again, three weeks ago. 
I had repaired it with sellotape back then, which yellowed and came away. The repair this time was with book industry stuff, so hopefully it'll last until 2040 when I might revisit. 

Thursday, 6 August 2020

Joy Division? I've Earned That Teeshirt...

Someone, somewhere on fb said yesterday, "you know people who wear Joy Division teeshirts have never listened to Joy Division."

I had to let that person know that I knew every JD musical release intimately, and have done, since 1980/81. 
I know a lot of Ramones, and enjoy the Ramones, but have never identified with them enough to buy the trendy teeshirt.

It felt quite personal, this slight, as I was sitting wearing one of my two Joy Division teeshirts when I read it (and have been saving people from Covid-19 by wearing my Unknown Pleasures mask, which I thought was more witty than many will ever realise). 

Its the second time in recent years I've felt uncomfortable in a JD teeshirt... The previous time was when the recent, awful Spielberg nonsense had a main character in one on the big screen. I knew that JD had reached that iconic, Primark line moment. JD was no longer the cult following, alternative icon it was when I was cutting about without a care in the world (nah. A jd fan ALWAYS was care worn...). 
I've had a JD teeshirt of one sort or another, since the mid eighties. In the very early eighties, I painted my own. I was never a "bands" or any messaging teeshirt kind of person, though I had a few political (green messaging, pre-green party), daft teeshirts (I remember a Daffy Duck one) and my JD teeshirt. I wore a lot of proper shirts, though, in the early eighties. I was quite well dressed. Fashionable at times. Outlandish in that eighties way, at other times. That changed when I left work in the early nineties to go to uni, and embraced the scruffy, crustyish clothing of that time, because of lack of income more than anything. 
In the 2000's I took to socialist and left anarchist  political message teeshirts. Nowadays my teeshirts aren't political. I'm wearing a Basquiat vs Warhol one today. Anyway, that's not what I wanted to say here. What I wanted to say was that in the early eighties I loved Joy Division and New Order for a number of reasons.

--Music, absolutely... I had never heard anything so layered, so atmospheric, so descriptive, in my young life. And New Order were brilliant for dancing around my bedroom to, like nothing else I listened to.
--Better still, none of my friends "got" Joy Division. My girlfriends all through the eighties , hated JD, with the exception of two; one an art student and another who preferred The Cure... One girlfriend graffittied a tape I'd transferred my vinyl to with "Boring!" "Depressing!" etc, And my mates, with the exception of three I can think of, thought JD were awful. I persuaded one mate to go to a New Order concert , and that changed his mind about them, and another Girlfriend bought tickets for us to see them in Wembley Arena, though I dont remember what she thought of them. 
--The image that went with JD and early NO was superb. We fans wore long coats, and all black, though we were def not Goths. It was deeper than that. We were wearing all of the cares of the modern world in our black eighties beatnik non-fashion and carefully coiffed messy gelled hair.
Pretentious, crumbling post- industrial Johnny Cash's. 

--And importantly, JD were anti capitalist, in a way. The thing about them was, they _made_ themselves inaccessible... They were so contrary to what pop/rock stardom was supposed to be... So it seemed (though I've learned there were tensions over all of this in the band). They didnt make videos unless it was just them playing live (this changed, to my disapointment in the mid eighties... "sell out" was a thing we really didn't want our intellectually important bands to do), nor did they add the name of the group or album to the covers. And as New Order, they famously made losses on their biggest selling single, Blue Monday because of how elaborate the tools were to cut the cover.
I have never wore clothes "labels." In the eighties, we  saw that as selling out. Cheap. Watching that change in the nineties was really odd. Teenagers and footballers and sports people becoming billboards. I still think labels and huge logos on clothes are awful... And when I bought a pair of Vans (black) in a sale a few years back, I made a point in school about labels not defining us, and to the horror of my class, cut off the Van labels. There then followed a debate as to whether they were still Vans, if I was now wearing Vans or were they just a pair of deck shoes etc..?
I dont mind wearing some statements of who I am... Bands , art, and pretentious statements from Paris 1968, Herbie the VW, Buzz Aldrin, Yuri Gargarin,  John Lennon, The Associates (a long sleeved shirt I designed myself), The Velvet Underground, Echo and the Bunnymen ... amongst others, are things I enjoy and cover my torso with. I'll never be a corporate billboard .. But I think the corporations should feel a tiny bit relieved about that.
This list of my acceptable, wearable printed things will change. I think I might always have a JD tee, though. 

I seem to have lost a few of my JD and New Order Vinyl over the years (lent out, left behind in moves etc) and toy with the idea of re-buying. But there is something about how commercial the new releasing of that material is, that puts me off. 

I have memories wrapped up in Joy Division tracks, image, books (the first of which I bought in Virgin Record shop, in London circa 1982, and is little more than photocopies of old newspaper cuttings, which I read inside and out, over and over during the eighties - band history was important... Though more life events than the techy stuff people seem to go for nowadays) and sleeve art. I grew into an adult with Joy Division and New Order. I dont listen to them every day, or week for that matter... Sometimes they arent included on playlists. But they are there . And I sometimes fatten up and over indulge in all they have recorded. I have favourite tracks, but thats neither here nor there ... As that changes sometimes. 

 So... Teenagers and young people... I might be a sad old, droning fifty-something man for many reasons (not least for the fact I still wear teeshirts), but I feel I wear a Joy Division teeshirt legitimately.