Terracotta Comment – The Matthew Petty Interview

A long one with a backstory, this. In December 2007, I posted a comment to Sarah Brown’s Que Sera Sera post about things that give her the heebie jeebies. I simply wrote “terracotta”.

Much later, earlier this year, I received an intriguing email from another comment poster, asking about the terracotta comment, and linking to this post on their blog. The email included a request for an interview! With me!

In the spirit of “why not?” I agreed, and a list of questions was sent to me. I replied in full (so, so full), and sent them back. As far as I can see, the interview hasn’t been published yet, so I’ve decided to do it here. Make of that what you will, after you read my replies…

Interview Commences

Q – Hey – thanks for letting me interview you about the important topic of terracotta. And a whole bunch of random things, too. Because one day when I grow up (er, I mean my kids) I might actually be a reporter. If I feel like it. People just need to hear answers to the questions in my head. Okay here goes. Have some fun along with me- fully aware it’s going to be posted on my blog. Which essentially gets posted on CNN every week and sometimes the New York Times, naturally.MP – My pleasure. Pleased (and guardedly flattered) to be of help. Can I just say that I feel a bit weird being interviewed like this, for what was basically a single word comment on a blog, but that said, I can’t help but dive in and give my all. The question is, can you handle it? The answer is probably “yes”, which kind of deflates the question, but there you go.

Okay so first memory of encounter with terracotta?

Difficult to say. My parents had a nice garden, with fruit trees, and a small patio area with a couple of pots – possibly terracotta. I don’t remember being rubbed against them. My earliest memory was jumping from a stile and landing in a nettle patch, but the terracotta had nothing to do with that.

Tell us specifically what it is you hate about it- help us feel the hate.

Just the texture of it. I don’t like the way fingernails or dry skin drag against it. Like flaking fingernails on a used blackboard. A hangnail dragged across brickwork. Teeth chewing on foil. A knitting needle held close to the eye. A spider scuttling across the bedclothes. Hate is such a strong word, though. More like “don’t like much”.

Why do you think you hate it?

One connection I can think of goes back to Xmas 1978. My sister got the double LP of Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds. It’s fantastic rock opera album with ominous narration, some wonderful songs, and very creepy bits. I still have that copy in my collection. At the beginning, the first Martian cylinder, lying in its crater, is slowly unscrewing. The sound it makes sounded like a terracotta pot being dragged slowly across concrete, in fact according to this page ceramics were involved.

Is it anything made of the material, or just the pots?

The material itself, in its rough unfinished form. I like the color of it, and the rustic feel it gives. I like varnished tiles made of it.

So in AZ there are stores on the side of the road (no joke) of people selling all sorts of variation of this stuff. If one of your friends blindfolded you as a joke and left you inside, what level of heebie jeebies would it create (1-10, 10 is shiver & shake).

Blindfolded and not touching anything, I would be fine. Not blindfolded and not touching anything, fine. If they held me down and forced me to drag my fingernails or my teeth over it, then it would be a 5. But then I would have to bury them in the desert for their transgression. It’s not so terrifying (terra-fying?) an ordeal really. I am a supporter of Arizona cottage industries. I could live with terracotta. I have learned to live with terracotta. I have published a book called Learning To Live With Terracotta. That last one was a lie.

What did you think when you read my post about you hating terracotta? I personally loved the party bit, how did that whole imaginary scene go over with you?

I felt a bit strange, and surprised that such a small thing could spark someone’s imagination. Butterfly effect, I guess. The wonders of the web! The party scenarios would be amusing, I think. The terracotta thing isn’t really debilitating, so I would probably fetch the ice, and then later slip something into the guy’s drink and film the results.

Do you say “cheers” instead of goodbye?

I often say “Cheers”, as well as “Cheerio”. Also, “Goodbye”, “Bye”, “B’bye”, and “TTFN”. I also say “Same to you”, “that’s what your Mum said”, and “Up yer arse” depending on the situation and dress code.

Have you ever watched The Changing of The Guard in London? Or do you think that’s gay? (p.s. gay=lame in America and is 100% politically incorrect. Don’t use that kind of slang at work, ok. You will for sure get sent to HR)

I have seen the Changing Of The Guard, a long time ago on a childhood trip to London. I was more excited about seeing the Natural History Museum with its dinosaurs and the Science Museum, though. And the Planetarium. The display of royal pageantry was great to see, but now as a republican (in the UK sense – look it up) it’s a nice display for the tourists which hides in plain sight a side of the UK I’m not keen on. On a side note, I think political correctness, that is, not being deliberately insulting, and being fair to people, gets a lot of bad press, but don’t get me started. Or is it too late?

What are your top 5 (or 10) favorite bands of all time?

Erm, in no order… New Order, Talking Heads, Underworld, Pet Shop Boys, Orbital, The Human League, Pulp, The Cars, Front 242, The Who, The Future Sound Of London, William Orbit, Big Audio Dynamite, Hawkwind, The Frogs. Take your pick.

What is your least favorite British band and / or song of all time. (Can I guess? Is it Queen?)

MP – One that always makes me grimace is ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis. The band were big with pub-and-football types, and this song especially was hollered drunkenly at the drop of a hat, because it sounds like it has some deep meaning, which it doesn’t.
Queen occupy that kind of niche that the Beatles are in. They just existed, and I think it’s a bit strange to say “I’m a Queen fan”. They’re in the national consciousness, everyone knows their songs, likes some of them, but only in the background. I heard a joke about how if you leave a cassette* in a car long enough, it will always turn into Queen’s Greatest Hits.

* that dates me.

What do you think is strange about Americans?

Too much to list. The USA is an amazing country. People sometimes comment on how many/few Americans have passports. But with a country so vast and stunningly varied, one can understand why many don’t. You guys swapped the red and blue meanings for conservative and democrat, which is totally confusing. In the UK, a “True Blue” area is usually wealthy and traditional, and guess which way they vote? At the same time this huge variation means areas can be so different that two lifestyles in the same country can be completely alien. But then the idea comes along that one lifestyle is the “real” America, and then you’ve got trouble, division and conflict. There, that’s all the problems solved. Don’t thank me. It’s sad how the USA was founded on freedom of religion, but it doesn’t necessarily include freedom from religion. A strange twist. As the Euston Manifesto says, America has a “vibrant culture that is the pleasure, the source-book and the envy of millions”. I agree.

What do you miss most about England [besides Nobbs]?

This is a tricky one. By Nobbs, so you mean David Nobbs, one of the greatest comedy writers ever? Or Hobnobs, one of the greatest chocolate biscuits ever? Both of those I miss a lot. If you mean penises (or nobs), there’s no shortage over here, not that I crave them. I obviously miss my friends very much, and I hope they’ll come and visit me soon. I’ve been rotten at staying in contact, so I hope they remember who I am. I miss my old dog. I miss level-headed newsreaders, interviewers who ask proper questions, Radio 4, satire, shitty weather, public transport. I miss the marginalization of religious emphasis in state affairs. I miss scowling waitresses, bad drivers, small cars, narrow streets. I miss politeness and rudeness.

Who was your childhood hero?

Douglas Adams

What was your favorite American Sitcom (if any) while growing up?

I liked Cheers at lot, and Moonlighting before it went all shit with the love story and writers’ strike and all (although that’s not really a sitcom). Reruns of The Munsters were shown in the UK, and Taxi was a hit with my family.

Best British movie in your opinion and why.

Brazil. Funny, terrifying, prescient, and for once the theatrical version had the downbeat ending. So many characters, great actors, great effects, design, music.

And British Show?

TV show? Here’s a few in genres. News – Newsnight. Music – Later with Jools Holland, Top Of The Pops. Comedy – Father Ted, Black Books, The Young Ones, The Day Today, I’m Alan Partridge. David Attenborough. Armando Iannucci. Jeremy Paxman, Stephen Fry, I’m getting carried away now.

What were people like where you lived that like The Cure? I am curious if it was a strictly gothic crowd or a mix of that plus normal people or simply everyone.

In my home town (Bedford, Bedfordshire) there were state schools, and private schools. I went to a state school. The Cure seemed to be more popular in the private schools, for some reason. Cure fans weren’t always full-blown Goths, more like trendy kids with spiky (yes, sometimes dyed black) hair, or floppy collapsed quiffs. The real Goths liked Sisters Of Mercy (Temple of Love is a great tune), Fields of the Nephilim and so on.

Also, are you a fan? If so- top 5 favorite songs please.

No, I’m not. I did like that one song In Between Days though. The Walk was OK. Lovecats annoyed the shit out of me, and Lullaby was tedious. Sorry.

Man, this interview is really going to be boring if you hate music. Sure hope you are into music. At least a little. And not Queen. jk.

No problem, I love music. Although I can feel my tastes calcifying with age.

Favorite band in the early 90s?

New Order

Favorite band today?

Wow, tough one. Not necessarily my favorite bands, but currently in my car’s creaking CD player are Ladytron, Nick Cave, The Burning Of Rome. If I set my iPod to Shuffle Songs, the first 5 bands that come up are as follows (honest): Spiritualized, The Primitives, Depeche Mode, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Richard Hawley. That was pretty representative, so here’s the next five, to show I’m not ashamed: Hawkwind, New Order, David Bowie, Howard Jones, OMD. And just for luck, the next five: Boards of Canada, Jane’s Addiction, Kraftwerk, Schmoof, William Orbit. Take yer pick.

First concert?

I’ve never been a big concert-goer, which is something I truly regret, and which I am working on changing. It’s Nick Cave in San Diego next week. My first concert was in 1990, Inspiral Carpets, Brixton Academy.

What would your reaction be if I mailed you a wild, rare, million dollar plant (what? they totally exist.) nestled inside of a terracotta pot? Would you transfer it into something else and risk its death or try to overcome The Terracotta?

I would be cool with transferring it to another pot. Or I would leave it. I would just have to be careful of hangnails. Like I said, this thing isn’t debilitating. Please go ahead with the sending of the plant, thanks.

Do people really eat beans for breakfast often in England?

Yes they do, as part of the de-licious, nu-tricious (said in Slim Pickens accent) Full English Breakfast, which in my favorite heart-stopping incarnation consists of bacon (juicy UK style), sausage, toast, fried eggs, baked beans in tomato sauce, and thick chips. All with lots of ketchup and HP sauce. But it’s up to you – add black pudding, fried bread, white pudding (Scottish or Irish), fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms, whatever you like. Don’t listen to people who claim there’s a “real” Full English Breakfast, or to people who claim there’s a “real” England or a “real” America. Sorry, carping on again.

Someone tried to run me over when I was visiting London. When my husband tried to fight him, he (the other guy) kept saying in his British accent “I am going to eff you in the ass”. (although he didn’t say ‘eff’ he said the real F). Is this a normal expression of anger(?)?

No it’s not, but the sort of person who gets angry and violent when they are called out for attempted murder are not really a good barometer of language trends.

If you could tell my readers the best places to visit in the UK where would you suggest they visit?

I wish I was more qualified to answer this. I have friends who enjoy hiking and walking – they could probably tell you more.

  • London obviously. Do all the tourist stuff, it’s great. But also try to find the smaller stuff – there’s so much going on, and so much to see. I regret not doing more when I was there.
  • The Peak District
  • The Lake District
  • The north-east coast, Northumberland etc.
  • The south-west coast, Devon and Cornwall etc.
  • Avoid Peterborough. Seriously.

Link me to your favorite blog post of your own.

In the absence of a better idea, this one. Other than that, have look around. The old theatre stuff is quite fun, as I blogged the run of a show. The site’s in a bit of a state after a problematic upgrade, so just have a wander.

What are you top 5 favorite blogs to read?

I read a lot, and my favorites change from day to day, but here are some that I grab as soon as they’re up.

Favorite concert ever- who/ where?

Jarvis Cocker, London Astoria, February 2007. The man’s a star.

What did you think of the movie 28 Days Later?

The first half was great, deserted London, sudden shocks, David Schneider as a vivisectionist (something I can now cross off the wish list). The second half was a disappointment. It suddenly reduced the scale of the film. Christopher Eccleston was great, of course, in his saliva spraying madness, but I wanted to see the whole country decay, not just one small group. I like seeing large-scale shots of devastation and chaos.

What was the Manchester scene like in the 90s when you were in school there?

Ha, well, you’re asking the wrong person really. I got into college there, and arrived in September 1990. I wasn’t really equipped to cope with studying and looking after myself. Planning my time, getting up, all that stuff. I wasn’t ready. Add to that the fact that it was a huge buzzing place that everyone was talking about, and I think I got out of my depth. That’s not to say that I partied all the time. In fact, when I failed my exams and left after the second year, it was just because I didn’t study. I don’t have much in the way of happy memories from that time. A shame.

I saw on your blog you are into theatre. Favorite show and why.

My favorite show was The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, in which I played the eponymous lead. Great play, great director. Hi Mike!

There is really a place called TOOTING in London? Is this funny to anyone else besides me? Sorry, I joke about tooting with my 1 and 4 year old every single day. We need to know more about this place. We hope people there appreciate how awesome it is to be there.

Some people do. It’s a really mixed place, with lovely small terraced houses, some kept nicely, some not. “Partially gentrified multi-ethnic” is how it’s been described by marketing demographers. It was made famous in the 1970’s by the (pretty bad in retrospect) Citizen Smith, a TV sitcom about a hapless Che Guevara-t-shirt-wearing Marxist revolutionary wannabe and his group, the Tooting Popular Front. The intro had him walking past Tooting Broadway tube station, then stopping, raising his fist and yelling, “Power to the people!”. Probably on YouTube somewhere. He lived with a right-wing security guard, with hilarious results. Tooting Bec Common is a lovely park, with the huge (cold) Lido. Tooting! Less snobby and expensive than Balham to the north, less of a total shithole than Mitcham to the south!

Thoughts on San Diego so far?

Warm, dry, good food, good dog beach. Still collating.

Biggest regret / disappointment album purchased? (mine = Sublime)

You mean which album do I regret buying the most? Good one. Recently, Spiritualized, Songs in A&E. Ever? Dunno.

Favorite Wonder Stuff album?

I was never really a Stuffies fan, but I like Eight-Legged Groove Machine the best – great fun, simple songs. They got all showbiz and circussy after that. Plaid suits and violins, yeuchhh. For a while, Miles Hunt was his own Cockney Rhyming Slang, until James Blunt came along. That said, On The Ropes from Construction for the Modern Idiot is one of my favorite songs ever.

If you could pull together your ideal concert summer series who would you put in the line-up (old and current bands alike).

Wow, blimey, that’s gonna take some work. Can I get back to you on that? Perhaps a gathering of all the old political dub-rock festival groups from the early 80’s. Or perhaps not.

p.s. send a photo of yourself so you can be properly recognized on the post about YOU and hey doesn’t that make blog entries more interesting and inviting?

Here’s Flickr.


And that’s that. Feel free to draw conclusions, and make sure you send any analyses to the proper authorities. Just give me a day or so’s head start.