I am an artist who creates bespoke works using pin badges on canvas. I call it Memory Pop as it is a stunning visual biography of an individual, extraordinary life.
A Memory Pop is composed of thousands of images of the moments, people and places beloved to you, from books to bars, food and films to childhood chocolate bars.
A Memory Pop is created through a series of conversations with me, either in person, over the telephone or via email.
Me, a while ago
I have 25 years experience as a journalist, a job that gave me the chance to talk to people and discover a little about their lives beyond their title. (It also gave me a back pocket full of anecdotes, including one involving a dogtooth jacket, Hugh Grant and the Hotel du Cap that my wife forbids me to tell any more, and another about Elton John my mum is keen on.)
Born in Edinburgh, I now live in south London. My own Memory Pop is a source of great joy and saved me in many ways. It brought me back to myself when I felt a little adrift. It also taught me a lesson useful for subsequent commissions: Pin the badges with the really bad swear words at the top of the canvas, preferably above eye-level. It’s amazing how quickly the children find those.
1994. More than 20 years ago. It’s not the last time I was carefree and happy but that year those two emotions certainly played out to a soundtrack.
I was almost as old then as Definitely Maybe, the debut record by Oasis, will be in a couple of years time. Financially independent, living in the British capital, all I found was cigarettes and alcohol. Good times.
Oasis, fronted by roustabout Liam Gallagher and steered by his brother Noel, riffed and raged, all for one, one for all, like voice and guitar armed musketeers.
Definitely, no maybe about it
The record remains capable of inspiring a nostalgic emotional warmth to this day for many, myself included.
(For my treatise on gin and tonic, as demanded by Liam in Supersonic, please read one of my former posts).
The record also happens to be one of only a handful of recordings I bought in the Mini Disc format.
An early adopter of nearly all music formats, I really believed that the mini disc was the format of the future.
I had already amassed quite an impressive collection of compact discs — including Definitely Maybe, having lost a large number of my cassette tapes following a flatshare move.
I still have my suspicions that one of my “friends” may have pinched the entire box of tapes.
The Definitely Maybe sound of Owen Morris’ mix, capturing that big night out live vibe, really demanded a place on my confused, multi-format music shelf.
I still have the beginnings of a mini disc collection of classics but like many other ill-feted miscellany, they’re under the roof.
And I still return to that debut from Oasis.
Noel Gallagher was 50 years old the day I wrote this. He was only 24 when the record went on sale, in all formats.
“There we were now here we are
All this confusion nothings the same to me”
Now Noel is probably the funniest stand-up not working in stand-up.
So I shall continue to revisit, to sing along, asking aloud if maybe you’re the same as me, we see things they’ll never see. You and I are gonna live forever.
While it has been known to make me weep on occasion, I do enjoy a tonic and gin. A simple drink, it’s exotic, fragrant and with a slice of lemon, lime or cucumber, is practically one of your five a day. It transports you to exotic climes the minute the sipping begins.
And when Friday comes around, well, it can’t be overlooked as an option to help usher in the weekend.
The rise in profile for the once cheap easy solution to help forget — mother’s ruin, Hogarth’s shambolic scene creator (drunk woman dropping hapless infant) — means it’s cool to order one with as much exactitude as you decide.
Start the evening with a Hendrick’s and cucumber, progress to a Sipsmith and ginger and then a quick East London in a negroni and the night might end up a little Hogarth.
Friday night in Shoreditch, London
William Hogarth’s illustration of the evils of gin-drinking was published in the 18th century as part of a campaign against the uncontrolled production and sale of cheap gin. The Gin Act of 1751 curbed the number of gin shops.
If he was around today…….
Now a profitable and quick product line for Scottish whisky makers, more than 70% of the gin is made in Scotland and some of it is very, very good.
Tears of a clown
And gin, in my humble opinion, also forms the basis for one of the ultimate cocktail of all times, the gin martini.
With a twist
James Bond famously orders his shaken, not stirred, which is technically the wrong way.
Spy creator Ian Fleming said he deliberately wrote Bond ordering his gin that way because his maverick character liked to stick two fingers up to the establishment and its rules of drinking. Especially when imbibing before duty calls on him to drunkenly foil someone’s plans for world domination.
Sometimes, when I’m having one, I pretend.
The dry martini is also central to the timeless story of a fresh faced writer at the New Yorker going to a bar in Manhattan with a veteran editor for a drink after work.
Ordering the third martini the flush-faced youngster asked if they were planning on eating. “Of course we’re eating,” the editor replied, pointing to the olive in his.
Been there, said that. Except my veteran editor had been round the block once too many times so was in AA and preferred a club soda.
I’m off to charge my hi-ball and stick on Billy Joel’s Piano Man to listen to as I nurse my tonic and gin.
I have an odd gait. Some people ask about it, others pretend not to notice. Everyone always clocks it. For years I have walked this way.
I only realised recently that it was not my charm and winning smile that made me memorable, but my ungainly walk.
“Good to see you again Stuart,” people would say. How did they remember me and my name? Your walk, this way, dummy.
The good news is my walk has absolutely nothing to do with my love for the sample-pioneering, Adidas re-branding rap trio Run-DMC.
It really is like that
The American hip hop trio from Queens in New York, founded in 1981 by Joseph Simmons, Darryl McDaniels and Jason Mizell, reached my young Scottish ears in 1985.
But it was many, many years later in a bling-ed out basement nightclub in Cannes, France when I got a personal Run-DMC moment.
Reverend Run (Joseph Simmons) had been booked to do a late night set with DJ Ruckus while the Cannes Film Festival occupied the town above ground as part of a promotional attention seeking event by Belvedere, the vodka company .
Despite the hideous prospect of being in a sweaty French basement club, strobes illuminating the army of black-tied slavering old rich men Dad dancing with their “nieces,” I couldn’t miss the chance. It was the Rev from Run-DMC after all.
Finishing off my own monkey suit with a pair of white Adidas shell-tops I arrived fashionably late at the venue and walked up a red carpeted corridor lined on both sides by the bold and beautiful massed ranks of hired hand party fillers popular with organisers at such events.
As I strode along, funny gait and all, I noticed I was flanked by a large contingent of Ray Ban-shaded dudes wearing tight suits cut neatly around enormous muscles, their big precious metal chains swaying imperceptibly around thick necks.
I nodded at my fellow cool music seekers and limped on unabashed before being ushered through the roped entrance by guards and down the guilt-edged gold stairs.
It was only as they turned right through the “backstage” door at the bottom of the steps as I walked straight through a black velvet curtain into the club that I realised I had come in with the Rev and his VIP crew by accident.
Probably noone had wanted to ask the handicapped kid who he was.
It was a great moment for me and my Adidas.
Dust off that track (suit)
Boy, was it a late night. He mustn’t have been reminded he was in France, six hours ahead of Queens, NYC.
But despite the late hour, DJ Ruckus and the Rev rocked the Riviera for the tragically hip Canadians and everyone else in da club.
I wonder if they ever thought who that weird walking white dude was.
Apologies for those of you landing here thinking it will be a note about puppies. Or a thesis on the current political climate across western democracies.
Instead it’s much more important. It’s a short ode to my love for the genius of Jim Henson and his puppets. He created The Muppets back in 1955.
Little did Henson know that one of his creations would provide me with source material that gave my six year old self the ability to make adults (and parents) laugh. For a while anyway.
I found I had an inherent ability to impersonate Count Von Count, the vampire muppet with fangs too soft to scare, at the drop of a one beautiful hat, ah ah ah, two beautiful hats, ah ah ah, no three beautiful hats. You get the picture.
You can count on vampire myths including arithmomania
He popped up in Sesame Street, the educational programming vehicle that first showcased Henson’s puppet mastery.
I loved that muppet like a brother and had no hesitation in breaking out the impression whenever called upon to do so and sometimes even when not asked.
While the Count provided me with my first hit muppet impression, he wasn’t the last. I also enjoyed growling like Grover and also found I shared a love for biscuits not dissimilar to Cookie Monster. I also once got put in a dustbin (trashcan) by my school “friends” but any resemblance to Oscar the Grouch was merely an (un)happy coincidence.
A chip off the old block
An energetic and almost violent action impression of the drum playing Animal followed before a more vocally advanced mimic of the Swedish chef and Beaker became party pieces.
Special mentions should go to other Muppets from The Muppet Show including Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, Rowlf the Dog and the band Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem.
And of course any of my party pieces would always end with a contribution from Statler and Waldorf, the famous elderly gentlemen who liked a heckle and a moan.
This blog is rubbish
“The most sophisticated people I know – inside they are all children,” Henson said.
So farewell then to the man who brought Bond with humour to the big screen. RIP Roger Moore, knight of the realm, and all round good egg. Double 089.
His version of Ian Fleming’s spy was memorable for capably filling the not inconsiderable shoes of Sean Connery’s James and by doing so in a very different manner.
He brought panache and a knowing smile to some of the cheesier lines of the films and still managed to maintain the air of a super spy capable of immediate and effective violence against the massed ranks of baddies.
Most people familiar with Western cinema of the last half century or so would have a favourite James Bond film. Maybe even three or four.
So while I have personal and family reasons to trumpet Connery as the best version of the agent licensed to kill, it is two of Moore’s outings that make my memory pop first.
It may be because I saw Live and Let Die (music by George Martin, Paul McCartney and Wings!) and The Spy Who Loved Me (Carly Simon sings Nobody Does It Better!) as a double bill in Perth Playhouse in Scotland for a birthday treat.
Alas Roger, you finally did
It must have been a re-release package before such things became more declasse. Or maybe it just took that long for the film to get to Scotland……since Connery wasn’t ordering the martinis anymore.
I was pre-teen and allowed to handpick three friends to take with me to face sitting for more than four hours (with a loo break and popcorn purchase between the two) in the local fleapit. Not an easy decision when so many wanted to join the exciting doubler.
Barbara Bach? Oh, okay
So these two Roger as Bond films live long in my memory.
Whether it is the tobacco chewing Sheriff J.W. questioning just whose side James is on anyway and the New Orleans funeral-turned- celebratory-murder-mardi gras in Live and Let Die; or the unstoppable steel-toothed baddie named Jaws (played by Richard Kiel) and a Lotus Esprit that turns into a submarine car in The Spy Who Loved Me, these films are entertaining entries in the world’s longest running film franchise.
Have I got something in my teeth?
I interviewed Roger in 2012 when he was involved in a James Bond auction of memorabilia from a range of the spy films to mark the 50th anniversary for UNICEF.
He was generous with his time and dealt with a fanboy trying to be professional with a suave, debonair warmth.
He really was the “I had that Roger Moore in the back of my cab once, lovely bloke, lovely bloke”.
And he wasn’t just Bond. He was The Saint and Ivanhoe for goodness sake.
Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to be bored. Correction, I wasn’t allowed to say I was bored.
Nought to be cross about
“Being bored shows a lack of imagination,” my parents would crossly shout as they walked away.
Or: “You can’t be bored, you’ve got so many toys.”
Or: “If you’re bored, you’re lazy.”
And finally: “Find something to do. I used to entertain myself for hours when I was your age.”
And despite all my best efforts to avoid turning into my parents when it comes to my own offspring, I find myself yelling similar things at my own children. And occasionally other people’s.
Actually, not similar things. Exactly the same things.
I’ve even tailored one of my own: “You’re bored? Me too, by you constantly saying you’re bored.”
As a family we didn’t play board games. A very competitive Dad and an impatient Mum meant suggestions of playing a game were normally met with incredulity at best.
We didn’t have the Monopoly on boredom. But it was the board game to end all board games when bored at other people’s houses. The one to play when being shipped off to another room to entertain ourselves with other people of similar ages to ensure the adults could drink in peace.
My own children have been given the junior version of the game to go and entertain themselves and other children when drinking in peace is required by me.
For a while my younger sister collected “special edition” sets of Monopoly but noone was allowed to actually play with them in case by Chance the Community Chest cards got dog-eared or a pet swallowed an hotel.
And then there was the division of the sexes clearly flagged by Risk.
Plans for world domination sadly mistaken, mostly
Few girls would agree that devoting hours to achieve global domination on paper (cardboard) using plastic armies and dice was a) a good use of one’s time and b) interesting in any way.
But boys? Boys loved to play. Especially if it involved going into the “wee hours” of the night to crush an opponent who had also suffered a knock back from a girl earlier in the evening so rendering the question “have we got anything better to do?” rhetorical.
And then there were those board games you knew were educational by stealth, led by Scrabble.
Mind your p’s and q’s
Adults continue to play today, mostly to show off to each other their vocabulary. Luckily for me obscenities and swear words remain legitimate and while I should know better, I do enjoy putting cunts down on a triple word score.
The other memory that pops when I think of board games is my Scottish Granny’s love of playing on two conditions: Some level of betting and money changing hands should be involved and the game should have the potential for vicious, game-changing moves by one player against another.
And if there was the chance that other players could gang up and prevent the clear frontrunner from winning, all the better.
You’re not really
A vicious, brilliant tactician with eye-watering quantities of good luck, Granny loved to shout “sorry” with a big, ironic grin across her wrinkled fizzog, as she swept the kitty winnings into her purse.
She also loved Draughts. Couldn’t play chess though.
Pawns in someone else’s plans
I’ve got a small collection of chess sets and my Granny is dead. And occasionally, I let people play. Check, mate.
I’ve worked as a film business journalist from more than 15 years so the question always comes up. What’s your favourite film? Weirdly, it’s a question I’ve never asked any of the stars, directors or talent working in film I have interviewed.
But I always ask if people have seen my go to answer.
Withnail and I, written and directed by Bruce Robinson, is perfect for so many reasons; not least for its quotability, the drinking with panache and its honest portrayal of friendship, melancholy and mirth.
The only programme I’m likely to get on is the fucking news
I used to carry a DVD copy in my luggage when attending film festivals just in case I stumbled across someone who hadn’t seen the 1987 British cult classic centring around the friendship of two out of work actors; and who might be worthy of being given a copy.
In all those years I only ever gave away one copy. So many ended up not being worthy. But there was one.
I know I risk sounding mauve (thank you Uncle Monty) but my moment came when I literally bumped into the legendary Mr Bill Murray in the foyer of a hotel in Cannes.
Murray was taking a break from his round robin panels with foreign press representatives to discuss his role in a film playing during the festival.
With no publicist in sight we talked Scotland, golf, fishing in burns (small rivers) and the tiring treadmill of being asked the same questions over and over again. (Why did you take the role, Mr Murray? Because I was offered it, doh). And very briefly we talked comedy, pathos and timing.
And so I asked him. The man who had been in Scrooged, Caddyshack and Ghostbusters. And no, he hadn’t.
I scurried off and returned five minutes later clutching a copy of Withnail and I to give to one of the world’s biggest comedy film stars. He was mildly bemused in a very Bill Murray way. But he took it, promising me he would watch it and let me know what he thought.
Bill Murray wasn’t in Withnail and I
It’s no surprise that I didn’t hear back from him. At least I am able to tell people I had a Murray moment when I gave him a copy of Withnail and I.
I also appeared on a television documentary about British cult films to offer my insight into Withnail and I and its societal and cultural influence.
Well, I say that. It was in actual fact to trumpet the drinking game that Withnail and I fans embrace. The one where a group (hopefully not just a lone viewer) matches their drinks and recites much of the eminently quotable lines from it while imbibing.
An evening at the Crow
My very own Withnail to my Marwood rocked up at a public hostelry in Soho at 9 am one winter morning to drink cider, ice in the cider, smoke and talk to camera. My companion and I embraced the opportunity for unlicensed libations (free to those that can afford it, very expensive to those that can’t) and extolled the virtues of the film and its liquid celebrations.
Did we want a cuppa tea? Nooooooooooo.
When asked to sum up our thoughts by the filmmakers, my friend wisely noted that if one was to try and match Withnail and I’s intake in the film while watching it, one would likely end up dead. And, or I in the hospital, came my rejoinder.
I’ve also been lucky enough to meet Richard E. Grant a couple of times as part of my “professional” life as a film and television journalist. He is a colossus of charm and didn’t blink when I asked him to write “Stuart, you terrible cunt” in my notebook.
I remain a follower of Grant’s career and tweets.
I also managed to grab a brief audience with the brilliant Richard Griffiths at a cocktail reception in Los Angeles. He agreed to calling me a cunt too, albeit in his hushed, non-theatrical voice, as we were taking fine wines at the British Consulate General’s house.
So while there are hundreds of film badges on my own Memory Pop, Withnail and I is the most important. There have been and continue to be many occasions for which a fitting Withnail and I quote can be deployed.
Especially when I feel like a pig shat in my head.
Not in winter or one spent in Quentin’s company when he was alive. But everyday has the chance of being one.
British salty snacks (packets of)
It is not news that potato crisps and other savoury snacks are a British obsession. More than 10 billion packets are sold every year.
There’s a Savoury Snacks Information Bureau and a European Snack Association. The fact that both institutions exist is a fine and fitting thing.
According to the European Snacks Association, savoury snacks are products made from raw materials such as vegetables (potato, carrot etc.), fruit (incl. tree nuts), grains (wheat, maize, rye, and rice), starch, vegetable oils and seasonings.
Tasty stuff. After all, opening a bag of crisps is a positive emotional experience, according to me.
In the age of diets — a knowledge of food and what is good and bad for you and an army of people telling you how to improve your lifestyle and health — the mighty crisp remains a golden sliver of delicious rebellion.
Also the word “crisp” is one of the finest examples of British English bettering American English when it comes to encapsulating a notion, philosophy, taste, texture and cooking regimen that turns the humble potato or maize into a salty snack taste sensation. Forget chips, Chip. They’re crisps.
When it comes to the food and drink element of my particular memory pop, my love of these snacks simply had to be reflected. A heady mix of nostalgia, salt and sensory recollection all led to crisp badges.
It’s little wonder (not necessarily Golden) that crisps occupy such an important (yet potentially damaging) place in my and everyone else’s heart. Like love itself.
After all, is there ever a time when eating crisps is associated with anything other than fun occasions?
This fella’s wearing a Tartan Tammy to eat his crisps
True, a trip to the dentist or to the hospital to visit a dying relative; or a morning of portaloo cleaning followed by a session of mucking out stables is not generally accompanied by crisp consumption. But frankly all those tasks could be improved by having a packet afterwards.
And then there’s all the fun occasions boosted by and associated with the presence of a salty snack.
As an accompaniment to drinks with or without friends, a quick bite during the interval at a pantomime, a change in texture following a sandwich at a picnic or a day at the races, crisps are essential and excellent.
Remember the days before the British government ruled out advertising delicious things that can lead to heart attack, stroke and obesity?
Who can forget the television campaign for “a canny bag o Tudor”, complete with regional accent and comedy?
Tudor Crisps were originally made in Sunderland. The TV ad involved a boy facing a daunting delivery to the summit of a high rise block of flats, in exchange for one of the aforementioned canny bags.
“Can I take a couple of bags of Tudor out of me wages?” asks young wage slave (delivery boy). “Nothing but the best for you, eh son?” replies business big wig (newsagent). Child labour, newsagent exploitation and gently dupery. What’s not to like.
Then there’s the Rolls Royce of crisp engineering named after a particular variety of the potato. Golden Wonder Salt and Vinegar crisps accompanied my transition from childhood to teen to underage wannabe drinker to legal pub goer with alacrity and an impressive quota of crunch and rustle.
Great with chocolate, bananas and any drink barring coconut milk
Unlike most political campaigning, right, left or middle, the Golden Wonder mad men provided many a memorable slogan to help punt their wares over the years.
Britain’s noisiest crisps, you’ll never grow old in Golden Wonderland and Golden Moments: Slogans to persuade me that my love of crisps should never grow stale.
Nothing better than a bag of GW Salt n Vinegar with a bar of Cadbury’s Fruit n Nut or a packet of Jelly Tots, right?
It’s not all nostalgia.
While trying to avoid becoming a cliched Scottish type who hasn’t lived in the old country for years, I was reminded recently of my nation’s brilliance when it comes to combining salt, saturated fats and unmentionable ingredients in the quest for a palate pleaser.
Unbadged honourable mentions, in no particular order, go to: Frazzles, Skips, mini poppadoms, Chipsticks, Scampi Flavour Fries, Fish n Chips, Doritos, Pringles, Taytos, Wotsits, Quavers, Monster Munch, French Fries, Hula Hoops, Nik Naks, Square Crisps, McCoys, Cheese Puffs, Brannigans, PomBear, Space Raiders and all things Walkers. Except Gary Lineker (former soccer player and now TV presenter).
Laugh out loud funny. Books that can do that are as rare as a Scottish World cup football (soccer for my North American readers) goal. Maybe not that rare (almost extinct). But this book is one of those singular published moments.
John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces
I read A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole before I knew the author had committed suicide aged 31. Toole’s grieving mother hawked her dead son’s manuscript around for 11 years before it was published in 1980.
Cult hit, posthumous Pulitzer prize winner and in the creation of protagonist Ignatius J. Reilly, the crowning moment for picaresque novels, Toole’s book remains laugh out loud.
Read again in the shadow of the author’s death, it throws up thoughts of what could have been for the author with every page turn.
And it is so much more than just a funny book.
“Go dangle your withered parts over the toilet!’ Ignatius screamed savagely.”
Toole picked the title for his masterpiece in reference to an epigram from Jonathan Swift‘s essay Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting.
“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”
A line from a Bill Hicks’ routine. Even though he died at just 32, the great American stand-up comedian had been performing for more than half his life.
The first few years he would sneak into licensed comedy venues underage to make the people laugh aloud, loudly. And think.
When I was creating the first Memory Pop, Hicks was one of the first pins. Twenty years plus on from his death in 1994 from cancer, Hicks still lives large in my memory for his brilliance.
Bill Hicks, tab in hand
A reminder for everyone of how relevant Hicks remains with the bit about ‘readin’ from all those years ago:
“You know I’ve noticed a certain anti-intellectualism going around this country ever since around 1980, coincidentally enough. I was in Nashville, Tennessee last weekend and after the show I went to a waffle house and I’m sitting there and I’m eating and reading a book. I don’t know anybody, I’m alone, I’m eating and I’m reading a book. This waitress comes over to me (mocks chewing gum) ‘what you readin’ for?’…wow, I’ve never been asked that; not ‘What am I reading’, ‘What am I reading for?’ Well, goddamnit, you stumped me…I guess I read for a lot of reasons — the main one is so I don’t end up being a fuckin’ waffle waitress. Yeah, that would be pretty high on the list. Then this trucker in the booth next to me gets up, stands over me and says [mocks Southern drawl] ‘Well, looks like we got ourselves a readah’…aahh, what the fuck’s goin’ on? It’s like I walked into a Klan rally in a Boy George costume or something. Am I stepping out of some intellectual closet here? I read, there I said it. I feel better.”
I also created a badge from a ticket of a gig I went to.
Less than a tenner
I had three pints of beer with a friend from Glasgow before going in and needed the toilet the minute Hicks took to the stage to the sound of heavy metal. It wasn’t just how funny he was that saw me risk wetting myself. I didn’t go to the loo because I didn’t want to miss a second. I didn’t wet myself. Honest. But I am now considering a job as a waffle waitress.
There are other special comedians on the Memory Pop to keep Hicks, a true original, company.