International Women’s Day: Sarah Waters

“Have you ever tasted a Whitstable oyster? If you have, you will remember it…”

It was these words that I thought of as I ate my first oyster at the Whitstable Oyster Festival back in July 2012. I’m not actually sure it was a native Whitstable oyster after all, but it tasted very nice. Not sure why it took me so long to try my first raw oyster (having grown up in this Kentish coastal town), but I’ll definitely be having more.

These words are the opening phrase of Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters, probably my favourite book in the world.


I first read it a few years ago, on recommendation of my sister. Of course I was aware of the TV adaptation, which was famous for its saucy lesbian sex scenes – as most people found out when they watched it with their parents.


But in fact, the most intriguing aspect for me was this old portrayal of Whitstable – where I’d been born and raised – and the tale of a young woman moving to London in search of adventure, as so many of us from that town have done (though many have now moved back). And it’s so much more than that, because of its Victorian setting. It’s a sense of adventure as well for those of us born today, because of the attention to detail Waters describes in this Victorian world.


Sarah Waters is probably the most strongest writer I’ve ever read, and an outright feminist and lesbian as well. I attended a talk where she spoke about her work and met her afterwards; what was so inspiring about her for me, is that she studied in Canterbury and lived in Whitstable, she writes historical fiction, and she writes it well – so well, that she has effectively re-created this part of the lesbian and gay fiction genre.

International Women’s Day: A Taste of Honey

Yes it’s that time of year – International Women’s Day on the 8th of March.

And why does it exist?

Well, because all the other days of the year are men’s days and we need a chance for all the men in the world to say “Well done, dear” for achieving…something.

Ho ho ho – only kidding! Of course that’s not the reason. No, this day is generally used to raise international awareness of campaigns regarding violence and oppression towards women. It started out back in the early 1900s following a women’s march through New York, demanding better working conditions, pay, and the vote.

Since then, it has been annually recognised. I have therefore decided that for the next 7 days, I will write about  women in history who have influenced me throughout my life (which is difficult – I’ve had to dig through the many male historical figures and the token few Joan of Arcs and Florence Nightingales that too readily spring to mind and remind myself of the women that influenced me) every day for the next 7 days…beginning with:


A Taste of Honey

This duo were a disco band in the 1970s. Why do they make it onto their own blog post? Back in the 70s, (and even the case today, as I have personally experienced) women were not taken seriously by the music industry or the general public as real musicians. Women sang songs written by other people, played by other people and generally did what other people told them. The other people were mainly men. Janice-Marie Johnson and Hazel Payne bucked the trend.

They played alongside drummer Donald Ray Johnson and keyboard-player Perry Kibble, yet they not only fronted the band but also played a collection of instruments and wrote the music. It was their song Boogie Oogie Oogie that sent them to the bigtime – staying at No 1 for three weeks in 1978, and selling more than two million copies. This song impressed me – as a bassist, it taught me that a bassist could be female, funky, lead a band, and sing at the same time. And all in heels. Even today, it still inspires me. Just see for yourself…


Good Times

Last night a DJ saved my life. I was in a club in Clapham, which in all honesty, I thought was going to be a cheesey music night. Now let’s get one thing straight people, when I say cheese this means the Baywatch theme tune, Ghostbusters theme tune, Grease megamix, 5ive megamix etc. It does NOT include disco. Disco ain’t cheese. It’s dance  music.

I’ve been reading Nile Rodgers’ autobiography:

Nile Rodgers

I’ve gotten a little obsessed with it. I wanted to read a fiction book but my sister put me onto this saying it would inspire me to write music. Not only has it done that but it’s also reminded me of my obsession with disco when I was a teenager. I’ve liked disco since I was a kid. We used to have record nights on Sundays, and my dad would always put on a mix of his “classics”: The Weather Girls, Sister Sledge, The Three Degrees, Yvonne Elliman, Liquid Gold. When I got a little older, I’d listen to more of these old dance tunes. 

I really got into disco when I was about 13. I used to daydream about going to a proper disco – I wanted to live in the seventies and go to a disco, or at least go to a school disco and dance to…disco! I hated most of the stuff in the charts at that time – pop and garage music mainly. Saying that, I did love some modern music, and that was funky house – mainly because a lot of funky house is simply sampled disco with a faster beat. I also got into the film 54, practically fell in love with Ryan Phillippe (Rodgers has some wild stories about that club). The disco obsession was unhealthy. Even more unhealthy than later obsessions with Woodstock, The Beatles, the sixties… Now I’m reading this book, it’s making me obsessed all over again. And I feel like I did when I was thirteen.


People at school thought I was a bit weird because of it (and many other reasons). But actually, I just really loved the bass and drum grooves, and in fact, disco pretty much made me want to learn how to play the bass. In particular, Bernard Edwards, the  bassist of Chic, made me want to learn. I can’t remember who it was who first taught me how to create that distinctive disco bass sound – the octave run up and down the neck, but that was the start of my bass journey. As a result, I just had to learn how to play Everybody Dance, one of the trickiest basslines I’ve come across. I finally managed to conquer it, but still need to practise it regularly in order to keep my hands from cramping, because it is so fast and I use a different technique to Edwards. It is probably my favourite Chic song.

It was the first song they laid down as well – written by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, who went on to write many other songs that have inspired songs in all genres, and have been sampled across the board – most notably in The Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight. I’m pretty sure that even the pop song Stomp by Steps was inspired by Everybody Dance

Rodgers’ story about the song Everybody Dance in his autobiography is the most memorable so far. He writes that a month after they laid down the track, a DJ in a club called Rodgers in the middle of the night. He told him to go  to his club and tell the doormen that he made Everybody Dance. When he got there, the doorman let him in and pretty much congratulated him. When he got inside, he found out that the crowd would dance to nothing but their song. He watched as they danced to it on repeat for an hour.

Which brings me back to last night. I was dancing with my friend, and I said, “I want to request something, but most DJs hate it when you request things.” A DJ got annoyed with me at new year for requesting something. But then I looked at the DJ and thought, maybe he won’t mind this particular request. I asked my friend if she’d ask for me and she said yes. I wrote a text on my phone: It would be great if you could play something by Chic. She took the phone and showed him.

I can’t remember what was being played but then the next song changed to a completely different genre – Chesney Hawkes possibly – and I thought, he’s changing the tempo – maybe he will play something by Chic. And then I heard the bassline and whooped: my first opportunity to dance to Everybody Dance in a club. Most of the people were a little earshocked by the change from a cheesey rock song to an upbeat disco tempo (mainly white people). Think I might have bumped into a few people while I was dancing. I said thanks to the DJ afterwards.

I went to see The Best Disco in Town back in 2004 with my sister and brother in law. A number of disco acts were playing, amongst them Shalamar, Rose Royce, Tavares and headlining them was Chic. I was all ready to watch them play and they came onstage…but no Bernard? I didn’t know that he’d died back in 1996. I was pretty gutted when I found out why he wasn’t there. I’ve yet to read how it happened in the book.


Still, the bassist in the contemporary Chic was pretty decent, and the concert was great, but as we could only afford seats waaay back in Earls Court, we couldn’t really see much. So I’m going to see Nile Rodgers with Chic again in July and I’ll get the chance to dance to that song again – but live this time. And I’ll see Rodgers up close.

Hampton Court Palace in Pictures

The other weekend I took a trip with my partner and housemate to Hampton Court Palace, which is just down the road from where I live. Here are my pictures and thoughts on the day. I’m not going to call it an online tour: that might put you off reading. Having read a number of books and seen programmes on the Tudors and the history of this period since the last time I visited a few years ago, I spent most of the time informing my companions about the history of the place. I’m sure they enjoyed listening as much as I enjoyed talking. I’m sure they did. In fact, sometimes they enjoyed what I said so much I had to say it again.


The first thing you tend to notice about the Palace is its colossal number of chimneys. Chimneys were a sign of wealth in the old, old days. Chimneys = fires = wood for burning = a wealthy houseowner who could either afford a lot of wood or had a vast amount of land to grow and fell trees for firewood. The design of the chimneys derives from the original design back when the palace belonged to Thomas Wolsey, before it became Henry VIII’s. Thomas Wolsey is more widely known as Cardinal Wolsey – Henry VIII’s advisor whom he held close to him. That is until Wolsey failed to secure Henry’s divorce from his first wife Catherine of Aragon, and was arrested. He died before Henry had a chance to kill him.


Anyway, the above picture shows the area outside the main entrance. I said to my housemates I reckoned there was once water here, like some sort of moat, as you can see the change in the brickwork colour. Sure enough, during last week, I saw an old news story from the 4th January, literally the day before I went to visit, reporting that this moat had been flooded for the first time in ten years – which would explain the green tinge of the brickwork.


Felt like a right historian, I did.





The Tudor kitchens. You can still have parties and weddings here. The Tudor diet consisted of 75% meat.



Notice the “GR” meaning George Rex, denoting that the mailbox was cast during the time of George (VI?).


The Great Hall – England’s last great medieval hall, decorated with tapestries featuring The Story of Abraham. Tapestries were a prominent wall decoration in medieval times. Wolsey had more than 600 tapestries himself, and would have the tapestries displayed in his rooms changed every week.



Henry VIII was a great sportsman in his youth. He was great at jousting, games such as real tennis, and of course, hunting, which is why most of the London parks contain freely roaming deer.




This, of course, is Henry VIII. Not the most famous of portraits, which involves him wearing a massive cloak and, er, codpiece to emphasize his manliness, yet near enough the same. His wide stance also suggests a tough guy, as well as his curved calves, which many of his contemporaries praised, as strong, muscular calves were beheld as an element of beauty on a man in those days. Why the massive codpiece? Despite having had six wives, many of their offspring died, and only one male heir survived him. Yet not for long – Edward VI died at 15 years old. The codpiece is more or less Henry saying, “I am capable of having a strong male heir – honest!”

It is widely suggested that the many babies Henry fathered died at such young ages, or were stillborn, because he had syphilis. He had other syphilitic symptoms – an ulcerated knee, and his extremely unpredictable behaviour as he aged. Yet, in no written documents does it say that he had syphilis, and medics in those days were very familiar with the illness and its symptoms. Instead, his behaviour and apparent tyranny may be attributed to a head injury following a jousting accident in 1536, that left him out cold for two hours. In the same accident, an old wound on his knee was reopened, leading him to suffer immense pain from it for the rest of his life, as ulcers repeatedly appeared on it. It is said that you could tell when Henry was coming towards the room you were in, as you could actually smell the wound. This knee, combined with possible gout and diabetes would also explain his obesity.



Heading into the other part of Hampton Court Palace – the world of William III and Mary II.


In William and Mary’s private bedroom, they had a remote locking system; using a pulley, they were able to lock the doors without leaving the comfort of their own bed – note the wire attached to the top of the lock. Almost like the modern day app system Wemo which allows you to do things like switch off your lamp remotely from your phone. Kind of reminds me of that awful old-school film about the computer called Electric Dreams





It’s crazy how many beds and closets the king had – the closet having developed from a small room for the king to retreat to, to a much larger room or rooms. Interesting to note, when we were walking round, a visitor asked an attendant where Henry VIII’s bedroom was. He obviously hadn’t been paying attention. She said they didn’t exist anymore as William had effectively rebuilt over some of Henry’s old rooms including his bedroom, which is why some of the palace is completely red brick with floral carvings … and the other parts look like this:


For William, I guess he liked the palace, yet wanted something more fashionable for the times. Which is why Hampton Court Palace, the home of two halves, is such a fascinating place to visit.

My 2012 in Pictures

My 2012 in pictures:

Early months…



Churchill-Bedroom Map-Room-phone

100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic – and my greatest blog post of the year:

titanic wreck

Trolleybus Anniversary




Ferris Wheel

View over Business Park from Ferris Wheel

Queen’s Jubilee – my father lighting the beacon at Whitstable

Queen's Jubilee

My first oyster at the Whitstable Oyster Festival

first oyster

Whitstable Harbour Oyster Festival


The Olympics 2012

Olympic Flame Relay

Brad wiggo

Summer days

Camden Market


 Holiday in Portugal





Larry Graham in concert

Larry Graham

Felix Baumgartner’s Stratos Jump – I was obsessed with this event – read here


Bonfire Night

Bonfire Night

Talk with Olympic and Paralympic athletes at work

Olympic and Paralympic Talk

The Thomas Hardy tree

Thomas Hardy Tree

Secret Cinema – The Shawshank Redemption

Secret Cinema November

Christmas 2012

Christmas Tree

A death in the family

Papa passport 3

Christmas party at the Tower of London

Tower of London Christmas Party

Christmas Day on the beach

Christmas Day on Beach