How NOT to write about music – 97. Helen McCookerybook

Helen McCookerybook

First, Helen has a new collection of songs out, G*R*E*E*N. I know, because it arrived – flop! – on my doormat, a couple of weeks ago. I do not know where you purchase it from – perhaps Amazon – but I imagine that if you go across to her website blog and send her a note, she will let you know. UPDATE: you can find the album here. It’s wonderful, full of understated magic. It’s a difficult trick to pull off, to be this unadorned and simple, reliant only upon your voice and a soft acoustic – and smart words, boom! – but she manages it, near always. And seemingly effortlessly. This song is my favourite right now. Deserves to be Number One in more hearts than mine. In person, Helen is very sweet, though not be crossed. I am hoping she will come in to chat with my students at BIMM London next term about the film she recently produced with Gina Birch, Stories From The She-Punks. She is a great conversationalist and storyteller

I had that dream again last night, the one about the rundown house with extra layers of rooms up a mystery flight of stairs, and you go out and stand on a flat roof overlooking many other flat roofs, and flowers. There is a palpable sense of space, distance. This time, there was a flooded bathroom that I discovered only minutes before we needed to leave to catch the train to Edinburgh, but my host – David Keegan, a friend I have not seen for two decades – was unconcerned, suggested we leave it to a family member instead. “I haven’t used that bathroom for years,” he laughed.

That reminds me…

A few weeks ago, I got on the train at Clapham Junction – first on, you have to be inch-perfect with your platform placement. Two ladies sit down opposite. We immediately get our mobiles out: several thoughts rush through my head, looking briefly at the lady seated diagonally across from me.

First, that I find it odd that she and me would be on our mobiles at all: a couple of years ago, we would have been chatting to our friends, browsing a newspaper, reading a book surely? My gaze strays across to the rest of the carriage, everyone is behaving in the same way. Second, that I’ve been discussing this phenomenon with a work colleague on a previous connection (West Brompton to Clapham Junction). Third, the ladies remind me of some other ladies I’d sat opposite across from a few months earlier – these ones were in fine form, loudly ripping into Johnson and the Brexit crew, discussing friends’ and relations’ sexual peccadilloes with gusto. Fourth, the lady sitting diagonally opposite reminds me of my friend Helen and that makes me happy, makes me feel she is someone I could be friends with, given different circumstances. Fifth, I think that…

“What are you doing on your phone?”


“I wondered what you are doing on your phone.”

I place my phone on the table. “I’m playing a game, Gardenscapes.” A Facebook post from Neil Kulkarni earlier that day had tipped me off to it. “What are you doing?”

She lowers her phone. “Checking messages.” Then, quite coolly, she remarks, “I thought you might have been filming me.” I don’t even stop to consider the implications of her comment – or the calm bravery she needs to possess to make such an accusation. Nor am I offended. If you feel something is wrong, you act – right? I know Helen would have approved. I start chatting about games addiction. We talk for a few minutes, then return to our devices.

The ladies depart before me, at Gatwick. She says goodbye.