Mr Sandman, Send Me A dream

I rarely post book reviews on this blog as I find reading both highly emotive and quite personal, and accept that what works for me may not be another person’s cup of blackberry tea. Being somewhat bed bound this week I reverted to comfort book territory, picking up Neil Gaiman’s Preludes and Nocturnes, the first collection of the Sandman universe.  I first read this book back in 1992 and it holds so many emotional associations for me that what follows is not a critical review, rather a personal reflection of what this book means to me still – 22 years on.

Where it all starts

Where it all starts

Back in 1992 I was a callow student of library studies (you’ve seen the picture here, I’m even sat at a VAX!), fascinated by university life, the development of a new and strange method of communication called JANET (the Joint Academic Network) which the geeks used to communicate with each other on campus via the aged VAX computer system. This was way before the internet was open to popular use, and a super tool for a girl to employ to meet the then main target of her existent – geeky boys. I was happy to play computers with them, they were happy to show me their toys.

Morpheus

Morpheus

One of them had adopted the user name Morpheus on said system, which led to a discussion (actually in person) one day about the origin of the name. Oh, he said, let me show you my comic book collection, strange little girl. I willingly followed him up to his seaside book attic (aka paradise found) where a world of wonder was pressed into my eager little mittens. A sea of comic books, all loving preserved in plastic covers, filled in regimented lever arch binders. (An aside, I was using the frankly appalling user name Strawberry Tart at this point. I was 19, but I really don’t think that’s any excuse).

Now I’m a girl. A book nerd, fair enough, but I’d never been exposed to the wonderful world of the comic universe. My Morpheus was happy to educated me for the price of a few kisses. I really was that callow.  And so I read my first batch of single issue comics, by a chap called Neil Gaiman. This batch known as Preludes & Nocturnes.

Welcome to the Hellfire Club...

Welcome to the Hellfire Club…

Now Mr Gaiman himself acknowledges that he wasn’t all that happy with the execution and story development of some of these chapters. He may be right – but I didn’t have any comparable frame of reference for what I was reading. Sure, I loved fantasy, elves and hobbits and David Edding’s wonderful Belgariad. But this was another level of reality. I dived into it all headlong and began a love affair with The Sandman that has now lasted 22 years.

There were so many firsts for me with this book – my first actual adult comic book reading, my first meeting with the Endless, The Corinthian, The Furies, the glory that is Lucifer, Dave McKean’s beautiful artwork, John Constantine (Hellblazer being the second series I submerged myself into in Morpheus’ comic loft), and the greatest personification of Death I’ve ever read.

'Just feeding the birds'

‘Just feeding the birds’

This all came flooding back with this sickness induced re-read. I always seem to gain my greatest pleasure from Neil Gaiman when I’m bed bound and taking strong medications that can cause hallucinations!! I enjoyed every page, every detailed illustration in this now very battered first edition trade paperback. I fell in love with the Dream Lord all over again (though sadly not with his namesake who got a little huffy when the kisses stopped and banished me from his attic. Bah!).

For me, the pivotal chapters are 24 Hours and The Sound of Her Wings. 24 hours is pure horror theatre, and as a little gore hound goth – both then and now – it played into my nightmares beautifully. Then there’s The Sound of Her Wings, where we meet our second member of the Endless, Death. We walk a few hours in her shoes. We walk in the shadow of her wings, every day. I only hope that death is in reality that kind.

Introducing Gregory

Introducing Gregory

I loved this then. I love it now. I’m still in contact with my Morpheus, albeit at a distance. He gave me a great gift, this world, this toy box of fantasy. Right now I’m stepping back into The Doll’s House. The journey is long and occasionally uncomfortable, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Thank you, my Morpheus, and Mr Gaiman, for the magic that still captivates.

 

Endnote: thanks to everyone who has sent me good wishes. I am slowly getting better, this is my worst asthma attach in 20 years and I’d forgotten how debilitating they can physically be. I’m rather snug, surrounded by pillows, books, tea, various internet devices, and drifting off to the lovely sounds of Agnes Obel’s Philharmonics and All About Eve’s Ultraviolet. Zzzzzzz!

Hair Evolution

So the dog and I are currently both under a rug on the settee, wrapped up against the cold which finally seems to have settled in for the winter. I’ve been listening to The Mission all afternoon which has a tendency to send me off into the wafty lands of nostalgia. So I looked at some old pictures. And my hair…

Mini Me...oh dear!

Mini Me…oh dear!

My fringe appears to start at the back of my head. It’s like I’ve been given a combover at the tender age of 4! Thanks parental units, I know this was the 70s but sheesh…

However, I cannot blame anyone but myself for the state of my ginger glory on the final day of school. The only redeeming feature of this photograph is my prized Ian McCulloch t-shirt. For some inexplicable reason in my mid-teens I used to mousse my hair then wrap it up tightly in pipe cleaners to create curls. I decided I needed some such bounce on my very final day at school, got up at 5am to wrap my hair (which only needed to be left in for 30 minutes maximum), then promptly fell asleep until 8pm. It was a crowning disaster. I didn’t have time to wash it again and spent the entire day looking like my hair had exploded in an unholy ginger halo. I went to the pub like this. I spoke to the boy I had lusted after for months dressed like this. Mind, as he was wearing his replica Waffen SS uniform at the time it probably wasn’t an issue.

Pipe cleaner monstrosity...

Pipe cleaner monstrosity…

 

Incidently, when my husband saw the above picture for the first time, his response was ‘Oh, I didn’t know you went to school in a borstal’. I have to admit our common room did look a bit trashed. I seem to recall all the girls stood on that table later in the day for a photo and it collapsed. Ah, those happy school days.

By the age of 19 I’d gone for the read deal – a true 80’s perm. Except it was the 90s. Oh. This is the only known photo of my perm-from-hell that lasted a whole 6 months before being removed wholesale fro  my bonce. (Actually, that’s a lie, there is one other but it’s consigned to the darkest reaches of the cupboard at the top of the stairs, to wither for eternity).

There's a monster on me heed!

There’s a monster on me heed!

The result was the shortest bob I’ve ever had. It had grown a little by this picture, taken when I was about 2o at university – a dear friend described me recently as looking full ‘…of piss and vinegar’. Cheers mate! I was actually doing a splendid job of failing my first degree here, spending too much time lurking in computer labs chatting up geeks and reading Hellblazer & Sandman comics.

'Full of piss & vinegar'

‘Full of piss & vinegar’

I then spent most of the 90’s in the hair wilderness. Make that a complete self awareness void. This sums it up nicely:

YETI!

YETI!

Oh, well maybe there was one other event in the 1990’s…

Marrying the lovely Him Underfoot

Marrying the lovely Him Underfoot

We both have fringes! EEK!

Thankfully the noughties and subsequent years have seen my hair settle into it’s midlife with surprisingly few moments of abject horror. This is in large part down to my finding a truly lovely hairdresser who I appear to be following around the north east with slavish devotion. Tracy, babe, you’re a gem.

Whitby hair

Whitby hair

Here endeth my somewhat frivolous post. It’s been fun, there are so many memories attached to these photos (and so many more I could have disgraced myself with). Now all I have to worry about is the creeping grey of cronehood. Woe is me, indeed!

 

 

Sophistique Noir White & Black Theme: Mourning Bracelets

 

During my late teens I lost my lovely Grandmother Elsie Margaret to a stroke. She died peacefully in her sleep, in her own bed – something I have lately begun to realise is very rare. She suffered from agoraphobia very badly during the last 8 years of her life, following the death of my equally lovely Grandfather John Robson.  I used to ‘grandma’ sit during this time, as my aunty had given up work to become her full time carer, and had little opportunity to get out and have time to herself.

I’d not at this stage of my life heard of the Victorian trend towards buying mourning jewellery such as jet. My grandma was not a wealthy woman but I was left a teeny sum of money from her estate. I decided to buy two bracelets with it, black enamel with a white and silver flower pattern hand painted on the surface.

Mourning Bracelets

Mourning Bracelets

I recall at the time my mother thought I should have bought ‘more fashionable’ jewellery – but these suited my particular style and my Grandma loved flowers. During her last year I was in my first at uni, a short bus ride away from her house. In between lectures I’d hop on a bus and go see her and aunty for a cup of tea. I always took her flowers. Usually carnations, but if I had a little extra cash I bought white freesia, her favourite flower.

Elsie Margaret during the 1920s

Elsie Margaret during the 1920s

When I read this month’s theme from the lovely Sophistique Noir was black and white my thoughts immediately went to these two seemingly insignificant bracelets. After 23 years of loss I still wear them at least once a week. Every time I do I think of my lovely Grandma and remember how lucky we were to have her as part of our lives. She wasn’t perfect – she was 4 foot 10 inches of pure temper sometimes (my mum being her 5 foot equivalent!), but she adored me and my brother. She loved the way my hair glows copper in the sun. I needed that as a teenager, when all around me were telling me how ugly red hair is and that I should dye it – something to this day which I have never done. She was proud of me in the way only grandparents can be, and the last time I saw her insisted on giving me extra pocket money because I’d just passed my first year at university.

So I dedicate this post to Elsie Margaret, and I will continue to wear my beautiful enamel bracelets for hopefully the next 23 years and remember a very ordinary and yet very special little woman.

The Professor’s Monthly Homework Assignment: Vintage Heavy Metal Music

So this is the first of these assignments I’ve carried out, and a great place to start because I can’t imagine my life without it being filled with music.  Beware the nostalgia wallow to follow…! My father loved Neil Diamond, my mum Cliff Richard (this apple fell quite far from that particular tree!). Before they split they ran a pub in which there was a solitary turntable that cranked out late 70s singles, including the phenomenal Gordon is a Moron by Jilted John, and Ian Drury’s Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick.

Aged 17, post Jesus & Mary Chain gig

Aged 17, post Jesus & Mary Chain gig

At the same time my big brother was falling in love with metal. AC/DC, Led Zep, Iron Maiden, Rainbow, Slayer, Black Sabbath, The Scorpions – the first posters on my otherwise pink bedroom walls were his discarded Rainbow pics (‘it’s been only an hour, since they locked her in the TOWER!’ – 20th Century Greensleeves). I was designated his personal slave at this point of our relationship and every Saturday after the night before he’d lie stinking in bed and I would have to change his records for him (he cringes when I remind him of this now!). He also loved the theatrical – Meatloaf, ELO and Queen. Through him I had a solid metal education which stood me in good stead with the long haired boys of my clubbing years – whilst my personal tastes were decidedly goth, I could talk Ozzy with the best of them.

House Party Era: Oh Dear!

House Party Era: Oh Dear!

As I am the only person left in the family with a turntable I have now inherited his entire vinyl collection. At Christmas last year Big Bro turned up with several boxes, and his lovely wife also gifted me her alternative 80’s (including most of the Smiths back catalogue). Christmas Day 2013 then became an epic sing off in the dining room, much to my mum’s horror. All was going well until my brother and I decided to have a duel to ‘Whole Lotta Rosie‘…

During the late 1980s and early 1990s I spent time in my bedroom wearing black, fingerless gloves indoors in summer and listening to the Cure, All About Eve, Jesus and the Mary Chain, The Mission etc etc like a proper baby bat. These years didn’t have a great deal to offer for the local goth in Newcastle, so we all mushed in with the metallers in Trillians rock bar and then the Mayfair nightclub. My best friend Heather was – and still is – an uber-rock babe. I’d be swathed in black cotton or velvet, she’d be strutting about on podiums in faux leather hot pants and bustier. All the boys in sixth form were into Guns and Roses, Anthrax, WASP and the Kings of Hair Metal – Motley Crue. It was as if the 1990’s grunge era bypassed Newcastle – like me it was stuck firmly in the 80s though I did an impressively bad dance floor stomp to Smells Like Teen Spirit.

I still love this music. It reminds me of a time when life wasn’t so complicated.  It was light in world that was otherwise swathed in shades of black. It was my openly guilty pleasure. It brings my family and friends together, bonded under a common thread of nostalgia.

Pre-clubbing photo: several ozone layers were damaged in the taking of this picture

Pre-clubbing photo: several ozone layers were damaged in the taking of this picture

This music has also wound it’s way into my writing. Each book I’ve written, or story I’m plotting, has a playlist. The metal era informs my 1980’s coming of age novel, Poison Prince, where every chapter heading is a song from the 1980s. I have I-Pod playlists set up accordingly – for novels each one has a total of 31 tracks for no reason that I have yet fathomed. I’m currently researching music of the Great War which is taking me into completely uncharted territory – hymns, classical music, war ballads etc. The playlist isn’t complete yet but it begins with Vaughan Williams Lark Ascending, which was written on the eve of war.

Tonight I’m off to an alt / goth gig. Right now I’m off to crank up my old turntable again, and shake my ass to a Queen crescendo. Have a great weekend, people.