Senseless Things – Pop Kid T-Shirt

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In Saving Private Ryan, Tom Hank’s character has a curious ritual when he reaches a new country. He stoops to the ground, taking a sample of soil to put with his collection. Something similar used to happen at early 90’s indie gigs, evident by the scrum at the t-shirt stall.

You had to get a t-shirt. Often you would put it on immediately, placing it over the shirt you’d worn to the gig. Some bands survived on t-shirt sales alone, acts such as James selling far more garments than records. Occasionally you’d buy them ‘outside’ the venue, cheap t-shirts from the bootleg vendor in the street, but the real gems were found on the official stalls.

I bought dozens. Mostly, they were terrible. Black country noise merchants Neds Atomic Dustbin were the worst offenders, releasing countless awful designs, resplendent with their swirly logo. The worst t-shirt I ever wore came from a gig promoting their second album. Written on the front in big white letters was the phrase ‘Not Sleeping Around’, something made obvious by the miserable specimen clothed within. My father was not impressed. I think he’d have preferred it if I was sleeping around.

But some were wonderful, and my favourite was my Pop Kid design from the band Senseless Things. They were terrific, a glorious pop outfit with some of the greatest singles of the period, their records housed in wonderful sleeves designed by Jamie Hewlett. Evidence can be found here, here, and here. The last one contains lyrics not to be played in front of the children and is unlikely to get them any airplay on Pick of the Pops, but I think its incredible. The intro alone is enough to get my blood pumping.

What I liked about this shirt is that it didn’t mention the band, but was instantly recognisable to a fellow fan. I remember once stepping from a train and getting a nice thumbs-up from a stranger, all down to this shirt. It lifted my day immeasurably.

I wish I still had it. It would probably fit me better now than then. Other favourites included one by the band Curve, with lovely Spirograph prints on the chest and sleeves. I had at least a dozen Pop Will Eat Itself shirts, including a splendid black one with long printed sleeves. But I definitely had more bad ones than good ones. Other stinkers included one by the band Eat that placed a huge fruit machine melon on my tummy, and an awful one by sadly forgotten band Scorpio Rising that had a print of a pink hand grenade.

It was unique to this period. I went to a lot of concerts during Britpop and didn’t buy a thing, just lager. On the rare occasions we go to gigs my wife occasionally buys a tour shirt but I haven’t for a good 25 years.

The Senseless Things shirt cost me I’d guess about £10. Ebay currently has a second hand one retailing for £200. But if I still had it, I wouldn’t sell. I’d probably wear it.

Over the years, I think I bought upwards of 50 band t-shirts, so let’s say £500 on tatty garments. When I moved out of the family home I bagged them up and they went to charity, destined for African refugees. It amused me to think that somewhere out there an African farmer is toiling in a field, dressed in a shirt that has “You Fat Bastard” printed on the back.

Anyway, these girls put it far better than I ever could.

A Signed Photograph of Anton Rodgers and Julia McKenzie as the characters of William and Hester, from TV comedy Fresh Fields

There is very little I can add that the title doesn’t already say, but I’ll do my best.

As a teenager I was a big fan of the ITV sitcom Fresh Fields. To the uninitiated, the basic premise is as follows. William and Hester Fields are middle class, middle aged residents of Barnes, London. The children have left home, leaving Hester somewhat bereft. She fills her empty days with a variety of hobbies and activities whilst her husband works at an accountancy firm. Laughter follows.

The scene is set through the badly animated opening titles. William sits in his rocking chair, trying to read the paper. Hester, by way of contrast, flips pancakes and does keep-fit. She torpedoes her way through life, from one pastime to the next, while her husband rolls his eyes, puts his foot down from time to time and pours everyone another sherry.

I loved it. It was shown on a Wednesday night, same time as Duty Free, and I couldn’t wait to find out what was happening at Lucy’s Kitchen or if Sonia was going to pop round. She was the lady next door, played by Ann Beach, an actress who seemed not to realise that this was going to be on television. She attacked every scene as if she was delivering lines at the Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, her eye line firmly on the cheap seats at the back when they should have been set on the fictional neighbour standing next to her (see here for details).

Quite why this cosy comedy appealed to me so much I’ll never truly understand, but even now I hold it in high regard. Every Christmas my wife and I will watch the 1985 special. Often British sitcoms do something different for a Christmas edition, such as take the cast abroad, but Fresh Fields showed a perfectly mundane festive holiday unwind. It’s like a documentary with the odd joke thrown in for good measure.

And so onto the photograph. I was idly browsing Ebay and couldn’t resist this signed photo of my two favourite characters. It arrived, and I placed it in a picture frame. It sat on a shelf in our lounge for a day or two before my wife noticed, and a good time was had by all. We left it there to amuse and confuse visitors until we took it down when we had children.

Anton Rodgers has sadly passed away. However, his last role on television saw him partnered again with McKenzie, in Richard Herring’s comedy drama You Can Choose Your Friends. It has maybe too much of Herring’s bum in it for my tastes, but it’s an excellent, well written observation of family life that sadly was only given one opportunity in the form of a 90 minute special. I’m sure being a TV commissioner is harder than it looks but it’s a shame it wasn’t given another chance.

This signed photograph cost me about £6. However, I have spent more on Fresh Fields. I have all four series on DVD, which cost about a tenner each. Needless to say they’re in a cupboard out back and not on display in the front room. However, I love this series dearly and am glad to own them, as with the DVDs of the sequel, French Fields. A sequel? Maybe another time.

A Creepy Postcard


I was on a family outing to a vintage traction engine rally four years ago. We stumbled across a stall selling old postcards. There were thousands, and while my son sat happily in his pushchair I rifled through them to see if I could find anything interesting.

What I actually found was this postcard, and so thinking it would make a good present for a creepy friend, I purchased it. The postcard is dated 20th December, 1939. The image on the front is the grave of John Ruskin, a Victorian poet. This is what it says:


As far as I can make out, it reads as follows:

Love to you all and greetings – what does the aligning of all the major planets mean? 2000 years of Xtianity – is it a minor cycle, and the war a spring clean for new tenants?”

It ends with a salutation that I can’t quite make out, likewise the name, though I like to think it’s sent by someone called Mabel S.

What I have in 2016 which was not widely available in 1939 is Google, and nowhere can I find any evidence that there was a planetary alignment in the year world war 2 broke out. As far as the conflict was concerned, Finland had just succumbed to the Russians while the Graf Spee caused havoc in the Atlantic, creating much anxiety back in Blighty.

But what I found most disconcerting about this postcard is how calm the writer seems. They outline what they feel is a possible extinction scenario for the human race with a sense of detachment, as if they alone would be there to welcome our new alien overlords. Obviously Mabel S is long since dead, but I get a sense she/he was unsatisfied in 1945 when events did not go quite as they had anticipated.

I never gave it to my friend. I put it in the drawer in my bedside table and come across it from time to time.

How much was the postcard? A mere 10p. Ten pence to feel slightly unnerved by a communication 80 years old.

A Pair of Red Trainers

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Sigh. There was a point in the early 90’s where I purchased a pair of bright red trainers. What was I thinking?

Actually, I know exactly what I was thinking. I ‘d seen them on a pop star and fancied I’d copy. I’d seen Miles Hunt from The Wonder Stuff on Top of the Pops, sporting said footwear, and got an idea in my head that they would look good on me as well. I actually visited a large number of shoes-shops until I found the pair I wanted.

On the way home I’m sure it crossed my mind, even at that early stage, that there’s a big difference between the front man of a band wearing red trainers and an ordinary bloke who works in an office. It took me ages to pluck up the courage to wear the damn things and when I did, I had the mickey taken out of me. Quite right.

You see, pop stars have nice bright trousers to match. All I had was a wardrobe full of black jeans, which meant I looked like I was teetering on two massive lipsticks. And where Miles wore his on an American tour I took mine to wear on an enjoyable weekend at Center Parcs with my grandparents and then girlfriend.

After a month they were abandoned as folly and I went back to more conventional footwear. This was not my only venture into ridiculous shoes. I purchased a pair of army boots from a surplus store in Swanage so heavy I could barely lift my feet. They may have been practical if I was planning on helping out in the first Gulf War, but less so for driving my Ford Fiesta.

Those red trainers cost me about £60. I’d say I wore them about 10 times, so £6 a pop. Not my greatest purchase.

LM Magazine – February 1987

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In the 1980’s there weren’t many ways to get information. You had Ceefax, enduring that painful wait for the page you wanted to cycle round. You had friends in the playground, who quite often wouldn’t tell you the truth anyway (I still half believe that one about Marc Almond – ‘and a dog!’).And you had magazines, of which I was an avid consumer.

I used to get Smash Hits, Look-In, Melody Maker, the NME, even Sounds. But my favourite magazines were made by a company called Newsfield. They started with a title dedicated to the Spectrum computer, called Crash, before diversifying into all manner of subjects. The apex of this ambitious overstretch was lifestyle magazine LM, of which I still own the first edition.

LM was named after their ‘staff writer’, who went by the name of Lloyd Mangram. He was a stalwart of their magazines, a diligent writer who filed vast amounts of copy for all their titles, writing playing tips, editing the letters forum, and compiling news reports. He was a reclusive man, tapping away on his Hermes typewriter, so shy he refused to have his photo published next to his articles. I was a bit of a fan, and wrote to him on several occasions, even asking for advice on how to get into journalism.

Embarrassingly for me, it’s only in recent years I discovered that actually, he never existed. The staff at Newsfield was so small in number they created a false writer, so the same names didn’t appear under every article. It was also a good way of publishing articles with a degree of anonymity. Naming their magazine after this fictitious, legendary figure took the in joke a step further. Often I wonder whether I was the only reader taken in by this conceit and feel my cheeks begin to flush.

LM was released with some fanfare. ‘Issue 0’ was given free with their computer game publications and Newsfield even opened a London office (away from their headquarters in Ludlow) to be nearer the metropolitan audience they hoped to attract.

The magazine itself was an uneven mix, more an elaborate version of the type of magazine a Sunday paper might issue. Issue 1 contains an interview with Emlyn Hughes, and the DJ Mike Reid’s favourite band Icicle Works. The latter is a peculiar piece of reporting, where the journalist dispatched misses her train, turns up late, and blames the band for being grumpy. The article is headed Icicle Berks and I’m sure went down about as well as a french kiss at a family reunion.

The same writer (her name is Sue Dando, no relation I assume) also contributes a piece on domestic violence headlined The Motherbashers, plus there’s an enthusiastic review of the Cannon Group movie Runaway Train. Pages 40 to 41 also held particular interest to the teenage me, due to the model depicted in the photoshoot displaying both the moon and the stars. This was quite a shock as I was used to only seeing bare ladies on scraps of paper found in hedgerows.

In fact, most of the articles in LM are of more interest to me now than they were back then. There is a nice piece on Withnail and I star Paul McGann, a nostalgia piece on The Prisoner and, I kid you not, an expose on jumble sales.

It was a massive failure, bringing the company to its knees, ripping the senior editorship apart. It folded after 4 issues,  Newsfield licking its wounds, pushing itself in other directions. It attempted a movie magazine called imaginatively enough Movie, and a title dedicated to horror called Fear before bankruptsy came calling.

I only bought the first issue of LM. To be honest, subsequent issues were hard to find. I’m glad I kept it, as it’s an interesting read. Cost to me was merely a pound, something I don’t begrudge. Newsfield though had far more of my money over the years, but that’s another story.


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I’ve always enjoyed video games. As a teenager I had a ZX Spectrum which basically ruined any chance I had of getting a decent education, as I spent much of my spare time running around an old house in Atic Atac or swapping stuff at a Cheops Pyramid in Starquake. I had a Gameboy in the early 90’s but no home computer, so I treated myself to a SNES.

It came with a Mario game, and I also bought Super Tennis which was diverting enough. But I was obviously rather flush with cash at the time, as one day at work I wandered into town and, on impulse, bought Pilotwings.

I remember the day quite vividly. I was in a training workshop, and at lunchbreak I walked up the road with a girl from the typing pool. Quite what she thought when I strolled into the toy shop and spent £40 on this I’ll never know, but she was polite enough.

Pilotwings is a funny game. Firstly, you cannot save your progress. You get given a code to enter to show what you’ve accomplished. The game itself involves you trying to ‘land’ in a variety of different ways, be in you in a jetpac, a parachute, or a light aircraft. The closer you get to the target, the higher the score, though after a while more fun can be had seeing how elaborately you can crash into things.

I never got very far, or saw any of the later levels. For all I know, towards the end of the game you are given the opportunity to fly Jumbo Jets or land on the moon. Optimistically, I’d say I played for about five hours, £8 an hour. If an man was standing by my television, demanding ten pound notes and two pounds change for each hour of play, I think I’d soon resent him.

Pilotwings got a sequel of sorts, a showcase for the 3D on the 3DS. I nearly bought it, but thankfully common sense prevailed. It’s become one of those stalled Nintendo franchises that served its purpose at the time but has little value to the modern gamer.

So yes, £40. I dread to think how much I spent though on the SNES. I had MANY games. I even bought Plok, for goodness sake.Plus various accessories including a multi-tap, extra controllers, even a gismo to play imported games. I easily wasted £1000 on the SNES and bits to go with it. If I’d never bought a SNES, I could’ve taken a good four months off my mortgage. One is much more fun though.

The Wonder Stuff – Welcome to the Cheap Seats


In the early 90’s a spate of lower division bands got ideas above their station, releasing VHS films. Often these were video collections, but sometimes they interspersed the promos with additional footage. “In Bed With Carter” saw the band interviewing fans, followed by live footage. Neds Atomic Dustbin released “Nothing Is Cool”, which saw the band filmed in dressing rooms mucking about, singing Don Mclean songs and having snowball fights.

The Wonder Stuff took it even further. They released what felt like a full length feature film. They had some form – at the conclusion of second album Hup they released “Eleven Appalling Promos”. This was a self-deprecating look at their videos cut with the band members sat in a flat, eating what look like prawns crackers whilst slagging themselves off. It ends with a jolly trip to the pub where they drink Löwenbräu with the film crew. But ‘Welcome to the Cheap Seats’ was so much more.

And it’s really rather good. It follows them at the height of their success, where for about a fortnight they did seem like one of the biggest bands in Britain, with a number 1 single and a sell out stadium concert. You get to know the mechanism behind the band – the roadies, the tour manager – and a lot about their relationships, particularly between frontman Miles Hunt and drummer Martin Gilks. Promo clips are still present, and are very much of the era – the band dipping into the fancy dress box and filming what happened. But the whole film captures what must have been an extraordinarily exciting period for the band.

This is most evident through the song Mission Drive, performed at their “Big Day Out” concert at Bescot Stadium in Walsall. It starts at the soundcheck, before exploding into the live event, the band attacking the song with a palpable intensity. The camera pans to a sea of bouncing heads, thousands of unkempt haircuts bobbing up and down as far as the eye can see. If Miles Hunt ever feels down in the dumps, he should reach for his VHS tape and play this moment because it shows band and audience in perfect accord, a pure moment of mutual fandom.

What strikes me, watching this now, is how all those people are these days in their mid to late forties. In the film, fans are filmed ahead of the concert, in particular a genuinely likeable, sweet young man who expresses beautifully what the band means to him. It’s funny to think that he’s still out there somewhere, possibly with a mortgage, a family, hopefully happy, experiencing the same stresses of middle age as myself. It’s a snapshot to my youth – I too was that scruffy haired, short wearing, Doctor Martin clad teenager, excited about music and what MY bands were doing.

That general feeling of “I wonder what they’re doing now” persists throughout. The more famous can be googled, but some, such as the road crew or other fans interviewed, are frozen in time, and you wonder how they lives panned out. It’s hard to see them as anything other than “Stuffies” fans, but in the 25 years since its release much must have happened.

Because this was the band’s swansong. Their fall from public appeal was swift and brutal. The next studio album was their last for a major label, savaged by critics and fans alike. They announced their split before the album was released, performing for the last time at the now defunct Phoenix Festival. They subsequently reformed – in fact, a new album is due at the time of writing – but now only Miles Hunt remains. Martin Gilks sadly passed away some time ago, but this video is evidence of his extraordinary talents as a drummer.

This video cost me about a tenner. I’ve watched it countless times, regularly when first purchased and about once every four years since then. It still entertains, mostly due to its familiarity. Over the years, I estimate I’ve spent a good £200 on The Wonder Stuff, and I don’t begrudge them a penny. If I bumped into Miles Hunt I would buy him a drink – in fact, I would even stand him a meal (just a Nando’s, I wouldn’t go mad).

They will always have a special affection in my heart for being a creative, melody driven band. They may not have had the image, or the looks, or a particularly agreeable frontman, but they had bucket loads of fantastic songs. Sometimes, that’s all you need.