Flowers In November

Billie Holiday

I sometimes like to read about the seedier side of life because that’s where I see the diamonds in the rough, the flowers that bloom in November.

Just before we have our little tea and biscuit chat about Billie Holiday, because that’s the topic of today’s post, I’d like to give a little mention to a flowering plant called the ‘Sea Daisy.’ What’s that got to do with blues singer Billie Holiday you say, well, I’ll tell you, but all in good time.

I acquired the seed, quite by accident. When I was moving to the coast, several years ago, I dropped the pot. Plant, soil and all. My husband, realist that he is said, ‘You’ve lost that now, just bin it.’ and being the dreamer, idealist, that I am,(not necessarily an optimist) I got down on my knees and started to scrape up the earth with my hands, putting it back in the broken pot, much to the amusement of all my new neighbours, who were nosing around at the time.

A little baby leaf, about the size of a fingernail was all I had left of the plant that had died on the kerb, and it wasn’t even attached to anything, so I stuck it in into the soil, put in on the sill of the tiny window, in that dark little (temporary) bedsit, prayed over it, gave it love, baby. How do you give a plant love? Hard to explain. I’m not really one for expression of love, although I do feel it, I suppose, whatever it was, is, I gave it to that pot of soil, with the little biddy leaf.

The leaf grew, went from strength to strength, and I got some funky green things growing, man. It was far out. The plant did indeed regain its former glory but also, also, a strange new plant was born. Sea Daisies. They bloom in April/May and then again in the constant rainy gloom of November, where the days are short and dark, like the chocolate bars of today, but that’s seasons for you, you can’t live with ’em, you can’t live without ’em…

The Sea Daisy


Of course, I notice them more in November. Looking at those copious and vibrant amounts of beautiful pink flowers, year after year, during such a dark, damp November day, would put hope for the promise of spring in most people’s hearts. Any time I feel down, especially during these short days, I just look at those flowers in November and it cheers me right up. I’m looking at them right now. Here’s mine, a bit blurred, but then, I can never take a good picture, always blurred.


Flowers in November and diamonds in the rough and light in the darkest places… brings me right back to Billie.

Short listed for the Orange Prize, the book ‘With Billie’ by Julia Blackburn, instantly drew my attention because she sort of rescued the book, or rather a portion of material for the book. The woman who was originally accumulating all the research was Linda Kuehl. She painstaking and extensively gathered personal letters, photo’s, transcripts, documents from courts, hospitals, police rooms, newspaper cuttings and two shoe boxes full of audio tapes, full to the brim with interviews from everyone to John Levy the bass player to John Levy, the pimp.

Tragically, Linda Kuehl, committed suicide, by jumping from her apartment building, before the completion of her book. It is not known what had tipped her over the edge.

So, already, Julia Blackburn’s book, has a rather interesting back story, not a nice one, but still interesting.

A Jewish guy called Abel Meeropol, wrote  a poem called ‘Strange Fruit‘, about the systematic murder of black men by racist groups. Cause of death, strangulation, through lynching. He had been disturbed by a photograph of the murder scene and its victim. He set the poem to music and later changed his name to Lewis Allen. When the song is performed by Billie Holiday, it is still reminiscent of a poetry performance, the music accompaniment and melody is minimal, making the lyric and atmosphere even more potent. In the early 1900’s, lynching was at it’s most prevalent but was still going on in the forties. Black men were lynched for the ‘crime’ of ‘uppitiness’, a black man might be getting ‘above his station’, through job promotions, signs of growing wealth, going out with a woman he shouldn’t be going out with, any excuse. Billie herself had experienced segregation, even at the peak of her career and success. Even in some places in New York, facilities were out of bounds to her, restaurants, toilets, hotels, venues that white people took for granted. Sometimes she would have to stay in her room until she was called upon to sing her songs.

Billie cites one of the main reasons why the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and the FBI was always on her case, was because of that song. After she recorded it and it did so well, she felt it was no coincidence that they were always breathing down her neck. The minute she sung the last note of that song, she became, unwittingly, a political activist. Unwittingly, because she claimed she didn’t know what the song was about, at first. The poem is not without its clever subtleties, symbolisms and metaphors.

She was soon to understand, as time went on, how volatile it really was, and how it would guarantee that even, as she lay in her sick bed, she would be harassed by the authorities until the bitter end. Apparently, she had been getting much better in hospital, eating well and recovering enough to feel optimistic about the future.

But then a nurse reported the presence of white powder around her nose and she was instantly arrested, interrogated, all simple comforts removed from her bedside. No possibility of bail, kept under watch every minute of the day.  She was told that now, even if she got better, she would be transferred straight from hospital to prison.

Something broke in Billie that day. All her life, she had battled demons, survived a childhood of abuse, a life time of prostitution, a war with addiction, and finally, her very last battle with the authorities, before the wave of the white flag. All her life, she may have given in, but she never gave up. Now, it was time. Within the month, she was dead.

Many jazz musicians, black and white, were using drugs around the same time Billie was, including jazz legends Sarah Vaughan and Gerry Mulligan. Sarah Vaughan was targeted more readily than Gerry Mulligan. Perhaps, also being black, female and a friend of Billie’s may have made her fair game but as Billie said from a 1947 interview from Downbeat magazine, ‘I’ve made a lot of enemies. Singing that song hasn’t helped any.’

Jimmy Fletcher, a Federal Narcotics Agency  officer, was a man who had some regrets regarding the hounding of Billie. He appears to have had conflicting emotions, on one hand, understandably, he hated drugs and all they stood for, but he had a respect for Billie that had little to do with her being a singer and more to do with her humanity, what she was, not who she was. She had class, despite the quagmire that she had found herself in. Although completely swallowed up by her environment, she somehow, in some way, was able to rise above it. Her lack of confidence in the face of her fame and especially her talent, gave her an attractive modesty, a beguiling humility. She was known to be intelligent, kind and appeared to have integrity. Jimmy Fletcher noted that he had an opportunity to help her a few times and never took him up on it. Apparently, that was typical of Billie, she never called in favours from people she had much to get back from.

She came from the gutter and lived in it, but her ‘goodness’ gave her class. I’m not talking about social class, not monetary, silver spoon or hereditary. We all know the biggest fools and mightiest asses can and often do run roughshod through all the social classes, and there’s scum to be found on every shoe. Humanity, integrity, goodness, they’re the important qualities that denote class, in the true meaning of the word. What scale are we on ?

I’m going to leave Jimmy Fletcher with the last word, or at least, second to last. He said of Billie that ‘She was the loving type.’ Many would find it almost impossible to be the ‘loving type’ in an environment like that, and with an upbringing like that. It’s almost a miracle, but then, we know it must be possible, for we have seen flowers blooming in November.



A Voyeurs Guide To Shopping Lists


I just have to include this shopping list of Billie Holiday‘s. Yes, we’re still harping on about the legendary blues singer. Don’t fret, it’ll be all out of the system in a day or two. Now, as far as I’m concerned, all shopping lists are interesting, but the one I’m about to present, just happens to be Billie Holiday’s.

Post punk singer and highly talented musician Kirk Brandon, front man of Theatre Of Hate, Spear Of Destiny and Dead Men Walking, autographed one of my shopping lists, I had nothing else handy and even he appreciated another person’s shopping list. He apparently made a favourable, jokey comment about the last things on the list, beer and vodka. You see, everybody loves everyone else’s shopping lists, and in this case, it was also a good talking point when looking for something to say to a legend. Although, I never spoke to him, I sent my husband to do the deed because I was too shy/chicken shit, whatever. I’ve since lost the treasured autograph, never knew what happened to it. I never have anything disappear in my life, hoarders simply don’t allow things like that to happen, and yet, it just disappeared off the face of the earth. I haven’t seen it for fifteen years and I’ve moved house three times since then. How much do you want to bet that it’s gone forever ? Incidentally, the autograph from Paul Rutherford, of Frankie Goes To Hollywood fame, who was in the audience, at the time, also went missing. Oh he’s a lovely man. He signed his autograph for me twice. I sent my husband to him, the first time, in the venue, and then later on, I approached him to get an autograph for my friend, who was also a big FGTH fan. Twenty years had passed since FGTH had been in the charts, yet we were both still loyal fans. In fact, that’s how we met, through that common denominator. So, I approached Paul Rutherford as he was leaving the venue, alone, late at night, walking down an alleyway. The poor man just wanted to get away, as you can imagine. I actually had the balls to approach him the second time because I was getting the autograph for my friend and not for me. It’s easier that way isn’t it? Granted, he did look a bit scared but he was brilliant. Calm, cool, yet friendly, like someone trying to humour a serial killer. It looks like I’m dropping names now, but if I do name drop, it’ll be because the people in question deserve it, because they’re nice people.

I don’t drink vodka any more and I didn’t really drink it then. A light beer or two still slips down easily enough. But yes, bad stuff vodka. I don’t recommend it. Slippery slope.

I’m in danger of becoming some kind of taller, female, non Scottish version of Ronnie Corbett, during his armchair monologues, so I will just get on with it. Get on with it! I’ve built up the shopping list. Drum roll. Now, let’s enjoy. Here goes, Billie Holiday’s shopping list;

’75 watt (2)

60 bulb



12 eggs

4 tolit (sic) paper

1/2 ham

1 comet

2 bars Camy

2 bars Lux

1 large Lestol

not too small chicken roasting’

A Billie Holiday grocery list, sourced from ‘Billie,’ by Julia Blackburn.

I can just imagine Billie cracking open those eggs and putting in those light bulbs.

So next time you’re out and about, scour the floor, or a lone shopping trolley or the inside of a library book and you might just find gold. Don’t tell me you don’t do it. Who can resist ? It’s a bit like a car crash. Not as nasty as a bum cleavage but even nicer than an septuagenarian’s long lithe tanned legs in shorts.

Oh, there it is, you’ve seen the shopping list, it’s a bit crumpled, a bit sweaty, ‘cos it’s been in somebody’s clammy little hand in a busy supermarket. Maybe it’s folded up once, twice, or just a bit scrunchy. It doesn’t matter, you swipe it with your trembling hand and begin to read. And here is where it gets interesting…

Is it written in pencil, soft or hard? Or biro? Then, in that case,  what colour is it: blue, black, red? ‘cos people are sick enough to experiment. So many combinations..and it says so much about the shopping list writer. You will get valuable insight into their psych right there. It speaks volumes. They may as well have just taken off all of their clothes in front of you and bent over.

Coffee, Bananas, Chocolate, Cereal

Really? Okay, fairly innocuous, fairly normal shopping list. Fairly sane. Sounds like a decent law abiding person. I mean who doesn’t need coffee and chocolate now and again, and the potassium in those bananas!  You’ve got to have it haven’t you? It’s good for you. Sensible, normal, non perverted person. So, what else, what else did this person want to buy today…

Now, at this point, would you stop reading? I can’t imagine you stopping now, What? Half way through? Surely you have a spare twenty seconds to read the rest of the shopping list? It’s not like you’re Bill Gates or Richard Branson. It’s not like you’re a high powered business man juggling a dozen companies at the same time. Even if you are, you’re on your lunch break and lunch breaks last two hours for the really big ball breakers. So, with this in mind, you read on…

Nuts (2)

Now do they mean two peanuts? Of course they don’t. They obviously mean two packets of nuts, or they could mean two six packs. but what type, what anally messy person would just write nuts (2)

Now you’re intrigued. What other brain teasers do you have for me? How does your mind work? Are you a sicko or just a normal person? I’ll read on.

TV guide


Sicko! A small ‘g’, when capitals have been the norm throughout? And why have you started writing in capitals halfway through the word? You mad pixie.

Half pound lucheon meat

You’ve got to be kidding me. And where’s the N? And why luncheon meat? I mean who does that? Why half a pound? Any sane person would just buy a quarter, wouldn’t they, wouldn’t they?  (screaming now) Are you some kind of serial killer? What’s next on your list? I’m scared to read now. You’ve actually made me scared.

Big black dild

And that’s when you scrunch it up and realise it was one of your old girlfriends/boyfriends/partners/flatmates shopping list. The one you couldn’t get rid of, felt hopelessly trapped by and you still get beads of sweat breaking out between your shoulder blades at the thought that they might actually live on the same continent as you.

But wait there’s something else…P.T.O and that P.T.O has gone from red serial killer’s biro to green biro. I mean, have you ever seen a strangers shopping list written in green ink? I have and it’s not pretty.

So anyway, you turn it over and there’s nothing there. So why did they say P.T.O ?

Why are they playing with your mind? Do they have an agenda? Is this a conspiracy?

Have you found any interesting shopping lists lately? Send me your favourites at A Voyeurs Guide To Shopping Lists, Strange Fetishes Limited, Blackpool. Lancashire. A prize will go to the person who finds the most interesting shopping list.




Johnny Rotten Delivers


One of first things I said when I grasped John Lydon’s newest autobiography firmly in my hands is, ‘Oh, what a tome it is!’ The print isn’t very large either and those words, small little beggers, packed tightly in like sardines.

Reading this book Anger Is An Energy – My Life Uncensored became a never ending pleasure, and there are not many of those around, unless you count the sado masochistic Simpsons Tapped Out game, although fortunately, playing it affords a little more pleasure than pain of late.

Yes, so, as I was saying, it was never ending. It was bottomless, like a large Costa’s coffee or a Kate Moss look a like, just no arse in it.

So the first conclusion I came to was, here is a man who likes to give you your money’s worth, a bit like Ken Dodd.

Now, a long time ago, I read John Lydon’s  first autobiography, ‘No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs.’ but what with the getting old bit, and the occasional glass of wine thrown in, and all the things in my head, my recollections of it are a little bit hazy, but I do remember it as a cracking good read. What I also remember, is the sexy sandwich incident, which frankly makes me feel quite queasy, but like all unpalatable things, quite literally in this case, it’s indelibly imprinted in my mind. You see, if Glen… cough, I mean the person who allegedly is eating the sandwich, is consensual, i.e knows exactly what’s in it and wants to eat it, then that’s fine, but it wasn’t above board and that’s just bullying that is. Not cool, not clever, just sly and creepy and no-one likes a creep, except him or herself. Is that the only thing I can take away from that book, the sexy sandwich bit? Oh Good God, no, but yes, it was a good read and if you haven’t read it and you want to know about the sexy sandwich bit, (my words) then you’ll just have to acquire a copy. I’m not going to get into the in’s and out’s of it…

This guy, John Lydon is not pretty vacant, but he could be a witty vagrant. He’s got so many things in his head. He could join my ‘Things In My Head’ brigade. Although I can’t image him wanting to join any club. Maybe I’ll make little badges, like ‘Blue Peter’ badges and send them out. Not elitist or anything, as that would defeat the object. I don’t go in for all that ‘I don’t want to belong to any club who will accept me as a member’ nonsense.  That’s just a very succinct example of self loathing. There’s enough people in life who will quite happily hate your guts already, don’t add to it by hating yourself. Some balance is needed.

Anyway, I’m perversely getting off the point here. John Lydon has a least another ten autobiographies in him. In some rather bizarre fantasy of mine, I see him writing a novel based on his life experiences, but to protect the innocent and not betray a confidence, he presents the truth as fiction, and people would then read between the lines. A great way of getting round court cases and people who might sue and other consequences to the bald truth. He would present the truth but be protected from it, and protect others, as it’s a ‘work of fiction’.

For instance,  there were a few potential little revelations in John’s book regarding Nancy’s death. Oh, he didn’t say anything untoward, just inferred things regarding circumstances, ‘cos understandably, he doesn’t want to accuse, slander or libel parties…or die horribly and violently. There was talk about people owing serious amounts of money to drug dealers. If they can’t get the money from you, they’ll destroy you. Puts me in mind of another former drug addict, the lovely Danniella Westbrook. I think her drug of choice was cocaine, but in her autobiography, The Other Side Of Nowhere, she talks about how cocaine almost destroyed her.

She has publicly talked about how she owed £5,000, to drug dealers.  Not a large amount of money in the business world, but a devastating amount in a drug baron’s world. As John says in his book, these people cannot be seen to be humiliated, they have to uphold a certain reputation.  It’s all mafia style stuff really. It’s about slavedom, selling your soul. Your soul is theirs. But the fact remains, you do owe them money and they will take what you owe any way they want, need, feel they have to.

Danniella Westbrook has talked about how she was gang raped when she couldn’t repay her drug debt, as a warning to others, part payment, partly to get something back, whatever, the reasons why they did it, lust, revenge, warning, perhaps a culmination of all three, who knows…it’s horrible, but unfortunately, from the moment you owe them money, your arse belongs to them, make no mistake.

Anyway, I will waffle no more. For people have places to go and people to see and you’ll never get this five minutes back. Or maybe ten if you’re a slow reader. This book of John’s contains heaps of new information. He doesn’t rehash old stuff from his first. There’s a very, very small section where he repeats a little about his early childhood, but that’s good in itself, like the beginning of an serial episode, that might remind people what happened in the last one. I just see this as a continuation, a way of connecting and knowing we’re still talking about the same person.

He introduced me to the Calypsonian, Lord Kitchener and that wonderful record Dr. Kitch. Once I’d found him, I came across similar artists like The Mighty Sparrow and The Roaring Lion and then there’s Judge Dread, who parodies these older artists. Lord Kitchener and his ilk are, to my unschooled ears, a blend of Kid Creole and The Coconuts with Benny Hill on vocals. It’s Carry On Calypso. It’s reggae on speed with double entrendres.

Calypso, for me,  has a hint of  New Orleans jazz, which in turn reminds me of The Smoking Time Jazz Club, who perform on the streets of New Orleans, direct to the people, during the day. In the evening, if you’re lucky enough to be in New Orleans amongst this wonderful music, you can check them out at the Spotted Cat. I must have danced to their version of West End Blues, many, many times. In my bedroom. Not in New Orleans but I was there in spirit, you understand.

I love the bit in the book where Lydon talks about the band ‘Faust’ and their album ‘The Faust Tapes’ Not many prepubescent or teenage British working class kid in 1973 could afford to buy an album. So we all bought singles instead but this band Faust decided to make an album and sell it for 48p, the same price as a single. I was three at the time but I reckon I would have bought it had I been a little older. I just have this image of all these joyful teenagers going to buy it, finally feeling like they’ve beaten the system. Or, not even that, just that feeling of ‘I’ve been given a break for a change.’ Hey, 48p was still a lot of money in those days.

Now that to me is politics in action. That’s creating social change. Granted, it’s a small change, but it’s a change in action.

The irony of it was, the album was classed as a single, due to its selling price and not allowed to enter the album chart. Okay, granted, the cynics say it was a marketing idea to boost the sales of a fairly unknown band, but, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours and then everyone’s happy. It introduces a sense of community spirit.

Billy Bragg did something similar in the eighties, and I believe is still trying to uphold that. Once you get into all that though, you have to sustain it and people expect more from you.
it’s like ‘Oh, you not on the side of the working people no more Bill?’ Just cos he might want to charge the going rate for something so he can pay his rent/mortgage, send his kids to school or whatever. The problem is, once you set a precedent people won’t cut you any slack. They want your balls on a platter.

Don’t let that put you off being kind and considerate and altruistic. There are so many rewards from that. You won’t necessarily see them straight away and you might not want them, you’re not in this for rewards, but all I’m saying is, just being nice, once in a while, is never ever a thankless task.

I bought an album of Billy Bragg’s in the eighties. It was called ‘Brewing Up With Billy Bragg‘ ‘Pay No More Than £3.99’ was printed on the cover, so no funny stuff.  That made me feel so snugly and warm as an perpetually cold and undernourished 16 year old loser. Oh, the after glow. You get the feeling that someone, somewhere is doing something to actually change your life for the better. You feel cared for in some small way and yet they’re not related to you and there is no salacious motive involved. Again, it’s a small thing, but when strangers  do things like that for other strangers, that has reverberations and it’s a manifesto.

Unfortunately, most manifesto’s don’t deliver their idealistic promises but an out to lunch band like Faust, Billy Bragg and others can make teenagers who are hungry for music, in fact in every sense of the word, feel a little less alone, or at least a little less isolated.

Who said keep politics out of music? There’s politics right there and it’s helping ordinary people for all the right reasons. Some people say that it threatens the music business and it may very well, which makes sense for these things to be done occasionally, as a novelty, to help both parties, the seller and the buyer.

After looking up some of these bands for the post, I noticed that Faust, Billy Bragg and John Lydon all have something in common. Richard Branson. During the time of their fixed price promotions, Faust and Billy Bragg were both being managed by Virgin records and of course, The Sex Pistols were under Virgin for a time.

This is what John does, he puts even more things in your head and then inspires you to branch off on your own into all this delicious research. Anger Is An Energy essentially promotes discussion, about music, about politics, about human nature, about lots of things, whilst also being a fully entertaining and very informative read, definitely a thumbs up.