Sunday, 31 August 2008

A wandering

I decided I would head out to the pub for a couple of pints last night. Being as I was at my mother's for the weekend, this meant a walk up a quiet but well-lit road, and I found myself posed with what could be described as a Scooby Doo scenario in reverse: Do I go the shortest route, up the road? Or do I go the long route away from the road and down the various lanes and paths?

I opted for the latter, and taking a quick turn onto the path just before the bridge, dissolved into the inky blackness (well I don't know about that last bit but I've always wanted to find an excuse to use those words).

I've written about these lanes and paths already, and find myself very much drawn to them whenever I'm back that way. To me personally, it feels like one of the last unspoilt spaces for my mind to occupy, and each visit feels like some kind of nourishment.

Such was the case last night.

The first stretch of the path is more like a tunnel, with trees either side stretching up high, intertwined and enmeshed above. Look to the left and there are fields and hedges, and distant lights, all seen intermittently through the natural barrier formed by the trees. To the right, a slope upwards - again policed by trees - to an A-road dual carriageway. Rather than serving to spoil these rural pockets, for me it enhances them: a constant, soothing background noise, the sense of people travelling to and from somewhere distant and exciting. As I advance steadily, the headlights of cars manage to bleed diffusely over towards the path and create a flickering, subtle, ghostly lightshow.

The effect at this time of night is most certainly eerie. Just to provide some context, here is the path in the light of an early midsummer evening:

Tonight, there is no such light, and I'm disconcerted by the fact that my eyesight isn't adjusting to the darkness at all, at certain points I feel like I might as well be walking with dark glasses on and a thick blanket draped over my head.

But it's quiet, apart from that background hum, to and from somewhere distant and exciting.

I feel a pulse of adrenaline - the old primal fears. What if someone's waiting behind a tree? I tell myself wryly that no one (else) would be mad enough to be wandering down here at this time of night.

I pause at a point where there is a gap in the trees above, and my eyes adjust a little. Up there, somewhere up on the slope, is where RM and I had sex. I smile at the thought and carry on. Over here is a little enclave where I used to sit with my sketchbook and notepads, feverishly scribbling or drawing, and drinking cans of Guinness. Everything here, even in the dark, feels layered: immediate barriers formed by fences, trees and hedges, providing a glimpse of a tantalising middle distance: so close but rendered somehow inaccessible.

The lights in the far distance seem impossibly romantic, and in my early youth I would imagine that they were like America. Even this path itself seemed somewhere different and exotic: there was enough space around it, and in my mind, to let that be the case.

I'm at the end of this first part , and I turn left onto the open stretch which forms one of my earliest memories. It's too dark for that to carry much resonance tonight though, and is more reminiscent of the times I've sat motionless and silent against one of the fence posts, watching foxes to-ing and fro-ing just a few yards away in the field. Or just being here and thinking, and being myself, by myself.

The hum of the road and the interplay of the lights. Everything in silhouette. The sky a muddy colour above where the streetlights are concentrated. Not right above where I am though, that's more of a Prussian blue, deep and endless. The occasional dark cloud tinged with russet.

I pause a while, and drink that beautiful background noise in. I used to come out here with sketchbooks and paint at this time of night, after the pub. I had to work out a system of how to use colours that I couldn't even see. Inadvertently scared the shit out of some unsuspecting bloke who happened to be taking his dog for a late evening walk.

Through the middle of this field, down to a strangely ornate gate in the hedge, and onto another
more definite path. Thick hedges on either side provide further clear delineations between near and middle distance, punctuated by the occasional tree, which positively looms. I can't help but think of the sheer weirdness of the countryside, these little pockets of space, this silence, the enveloping darkness, how much potential there is to project so many fears, fantasies and superstitions onto the surroundings, amplified by occasional unexplainable sounds.

I wonder if it's my imagination, the occasional movement in the periphery of my vision. One dark shape against another.

On I walk, past an intersection between three fields. There used to be an old, rusting piece of farming equipment here. I'd come out here at a similar time of night a few years ago and recorded the sound of it being repeatedly kicked and pushed and scraped, for a sound piece I was working on at the time. Once I was satisfied with the results I turned round to see the silhouette of a horse, presumably regarding me rather quizzically.

The path slopes upwards now, and again becomes more like a tunnel. I stumble towards the murky patch of light (well - not light, but less dark than the rest) I can see at the end of it. The sheer, enfolding darkness raises the pulse again, but I don't allow it to quicken my pace. I know this place better than I know anywhere, after all - and soon I'll be out in the open again. Over a stile, and out into an open field which will soon slope sharply downwards again.

It was here, at the top, in the open, that me and SB used to sit with cans of super-strength beer. We'd wax philosophical: the place lent itself to such musings as the nature of space and of infinity - here at the top of this hill, there was a sense of everything being below us except for the sky and the stars. There would always reach a point in our conversation where I would try and convince him that the fabric of space and time was curved, and he wouldn't be having any of it. As we continued to drink, the discussion would soon descend to cheap personal insults, then he would usually throw up and I'd feel superior even if I was more drunk than he.

This was half a life ago, and it makes me smile.

I start walking gingerly down the slope. Not because the path is precarious, but because I do not like the bit at the bottom of the slope one little bit. There's something about it. The darkness renders it indistinct - a dark mass of trees - but down there somewhere is a tiny footbridge over a brook. I reason to myself how silly it is that I can walk as far as this, through all this darkness, without any problem - that I can dismiss unreasonable thoughts, fears and superstitions as fantastic nonsense. For some reason, it's not as easy at this point to cast such things from my mind.

It's colder down there, I know it. Of course it is, because there's a brook, but it's not that kind of coldness I'm talking about. The darkness and the silhouettes on the rest of this walk feel quite diffuse and fuzzy, but down here it feels more like sharp spikes. Tales about the place abound - some feasible, some not.

I keep my pace steady.

I remember someone telling me that a marching band had been seen down here - he'd been walking nearby and heard music, and here was this phantom band marching right through (as in, right through) the trees. Bullshit, of course, and I remember wondering whether this guy had seen far too many reruns of Sapphire and Steel for his own good. Nonetheless, I stupidly find myself listening out for old marching music, and filling my mind with all sorts of ghostly images which serve to make me feel as nervous as I feel silly.

It's more overgrown than last time I was here, and I can't immediately see the way through to the bridge. I'm starting to flap a little, until I see a way through from one side. The adrenaline is really flowing and I'm feeling like a scared child.

Over the footbridge. Quick. And, despite myself, I run up the slope on the other side, relieved to get out of this particular trough. I curse myself for allowing such silliness to unsettle me, not to be able to dismiss it so easily.

This last field slopes upwards sharply and then opens out, a lone tree in the middle, still some distance away. The first time I walked up here on my own at night, I was relieved to have gotten over the bridge (in case of what, exactly?), only for my heart to nearly stop when I looked up the slope: it had been a foggy evening, and the lights from the farmhouse beyond the field had served to bathe it in a quite unearthly light. Up on a brow at the top of the slope were the silhouettes of six horses, standing in a row staring at me, their shadows slicing through the fog and into the distance like dark beams. It was quite a sight.

Tonight no such spectacle awaits but the two or three horses nearby come up very close to me, nudging against me almost aggressively. This unnerves me but I pat them and continue, relieved when they realise I have no food for them and plod off in another direction.

Upwards I go, the slope more gentle now. The hedgerows taper in and converge at another stile at the far end. I'm almost there. This final part is the darkest in a literal sense - a tiny path, completely enclosed overhead - but it doesn't perturb me, certainly not in the way that the bridge at the bottom of the field does. I clamber over and feel beer cans underfoot. It's impossibly dark, and I'm almost stumbling, but a short while later I'm out into the open, and on the road.

It's just a couple of minutes to the pub from here, and my pint feels well deserved.

Monday, 25 August 2008

All crunch and no credit

At the supermarket yesterday I decided to be a little more economical given just how much prices are rising. I was planning on making a chilli con carne, and I bought a lower-priced brand of minced beef - perhaps £1.60 lower than the stuff I normally get.

It didn't taste bad at all, but there were far too many gnarly bits of gristle in there (which reminded me why I always bought the more expensive stuff in the first place), and I had to pick one bit out which got stuck between my teeth. Later I realised that this particularly vindictive piece of gristle had managed to bring half of one of my fillings out with it as well.

So for a saving of less than two quid, I'm faced with possibly 10 or 20 (if not more) times that amount on dental work.


*Update Tuesday 26th Aug: tonight I will be having cheese and tomato sandwiches with houmous. More news as it happens.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Interval (the musical kind)

I'm a wreck, thanks to a piece of music:

Requiem For Dying Mothers, Pt 2, by Stars of the Lid.

Since I got back from Edinburgh, I've listened to it often - whether through the pc speakers, or on what might be termed my internal walkman, when I've been out and about.

It's a lush, majestic piece: I'll surely do it an injustice by trying to describe it in terms of form (you'll note also that I don't read music, otherwise I'd do a far better job technically in the following description) but, broadly speaking, it comprises of drones, loops, ambient washes of sound, reverb, and a gorgeous string section.

It also makes use of repetition.

But what really gets to me are the chord changes. It starts in C, centred around a simple but beautiful tonal phrase, which then liquidly changes to a G chord. This repeats a few times at a slow and stately pace over a rich palette of sonic layering and texture.

After perhaps the fourth repetition it morphs from C to B flat, with a slight change also in the tonal phrase: this too repeats for maybe four times. It's all held together delicately but beautifully by the various drones bleeding into one another as the whole piece unfolds.

And how it unfolds after this point.

Because after this last particular B flat, it does something simple and astonishing. It goes up to E flat - at the same stately pace - and then through a progression to B flat, F, and back to C. It then repeats this progression over and over, weaving textures in and out, before the string section comes in and takes the same progression through to the end of the piece, totalling 7 and a half minutes.

But the effect of that change from B flat to E flat the first time round: real lump-in-the-throat stuff. I still cannot get over how a sequence of chords and notes in a certain order can just cut right through to something in oneself that brings out such feeling.

In terms of how to describe the overall effect, I'm struck by the kind of bipolarity it leaves me conjuring with:

It's delicate and subtle, yet heavy and monolithic;

It's beautiful and bright, yet bleak and intense;

It's wordless, and speaks volumes to me.

But more than anything, there's that one, devastating moment.

*Update: as found by nmj, here's a link to the piece in question. There's some extra stuff at the end, but the actual track ends around the 7 mins 30 mark.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Journeys by blog/ The last post ever

Well let me clear something up before we ("we?" Who's this "we" exactly?) get any further: the bit about "the last post ever" is bollocks. Complete and utter shite. I just wanted to inject a bit of pointless drama into the proceedings early on.

In a way though it does illustrate a point. I think. One reason I took a break from writing blog posts was that in some ways it all felt like using a lot of different words which could be summed up as elaborate ways of writing "me, me, ME!"

Not that I'm saying that's a bad thing in itself: it's in there amongst the reasons I actually started blogging in the first place - it was just that I stopped finding ways of writing "me, me, ME!", or at least, I stopped finding it interesting. So what does that have to do with including a stupidly melodramatic and mendacious line in the title? Well it just feels like another way of saying "me, me, ME!" but in a much more barefaced kind of way, and hence signalling a return to writing posts.

Hmm, not the most catchy way of resuming my blog activity is it?

The other thing is, I think it's only accurate to say that I was taking a break from writing posts. That break has done me good, but I realise that quite a lot of my activity during said break has been blog-related in some way. One such example was a good chat and Sunday lunch in rather genial company some weeks ago: a more than pleasant couple of hours spent in a pub out of town with good food and a couple of pints of Landlord.

Then recently I went to a blog party with an equally genial host and lovely guests. This too was a civilized affair, and was memorable not just for the food, fine wine and conversation, but for the incredible sound of torrential rain against the glass roof of the conservatory.

The thing about it is that I still find there to be an inescapable sense of weirdness (not in a bad way) about meeting up with people who I've previously - or primarily - known online. I'm not talking about it here in terms of the potential risks there might be - but just from the sense that meeting people who I only know through blogging is still something very novel, and...well, weird.

Put it this way, if two years ago you (whoever "you" are) suggested to me that I'd be heading up to Edinburgh for a couple of days on my own, and one of the focal points of that visit was to attend the book launch of someone I'd only communicated with online, I would have politely suggested that you were talking bollocks. Or I might have just said, no, you're talking bollocks. I wouldn't do such seemingly random stuff.

But then it's only just under two years ago that I had a conversation online with someone (no links to post here because the relevant blogs are now defunct) who happened to be in Berlin for a few days, a couple of weeks before I was due to head there myself. The result of that conversation was that the someone in question agreed to set me a challenge: she posted a photograph of a small piece of public art which I had to find and photograph for myself.

It's perhaps telling that I expected this challenge to be no more than an intriguing aside to my stay in Berlin: in the end, due to a number of factors, it ended up being tightly woven, if not utterly integral, to the whole fabric of my first stay there. It also seemed to carry a lot of meaning for me, amplified by the sense of headspace that you get (whoever "you" are, etc) when you're away from familiar sights, sounds, patterns of thought and so on.

I hope that this serves, though, to illustrate the weirdness that I'm talking about - the fact that I could spend so much of my time engaged in something which arose from a chance conversation with someone I only knew through words on a screen.

But really, therein lay the appeal. I may yet edit and post my writings about that whole experience, though I'll first have the courtesy to get the okay from the person in question.

Such was on my mind though as I headed up to Edinburgh earlier in the week. I wasn't going solely for nmj's book launch - but that served as the catalyst for me travelling up there in the first place and also giving me the chance of doing a few other things I wanted to do.

So I've had a couple of days with some much-needed headspace and the chance to explore somewhere new (but somewhere I've long since wanted to visit). With the main focal point, in terms of social activity, being an evening with people I've never met before - but some of whom I've had varying degrees of contact with online. The aforementioned blog connections.

As I noted either to bobo or maybe to nmj herself (or probably both and everyone else in the room besides, since I found myself chatting away like I was on commission, and also said hello to hullabaloo, though I can't seem to link to her), it's like a kind of celebrity status: you might recognise faces, you have a certain amount of prior knowledge, perhaps some sense of expectation.

The difference is that these same people are likely to know a certain amount about yourself too, and there results a delightful mix of familiarity and sheer newness: talking over territory you (whoever "you"...etc) may have covered many times - but now with the addition of tone of voice, gestures, eye contact and so on. I realise that's quite an obvious point, but the fact of it can still be just a little startling. Which again serves to emphasise that quite delicious weirdness.

So I've been away in terms of writing my own posts: but I've had a hell of a lot of overlap between Real Life and Blogging.

The other thing which has to be said about each time that I've experienced this overlap so far (most definitely including the previous examples above), is that it's been a fantastic, enjoyable, positive experience.

Last night's book launch was no exception. I was happy to have been asked by nmj to take some photographs at the launch - it was nice to have a bit of a role (perhaps analogous, albeit distantly, to having a challenge set for me as mentioned earlier), which might also serve perhaps as a barrier in case my social skills (of which I have plenty) decided to desert me (which happens aplenty).

But it was great, and I'm glad that it went so well for nmj. She displayed great wit, personality, eloquence and energy as she talked about the book and then gave a reading. (I use the word "energy" whilst being aware that crippling exhaustion is something that those who have ME have to face so much of the time.) It was also great fun: a relaxed and informal atmosphere, good people to meet and talk to, and wine there for the drinking. I haven't read her book yet - haven't had the chance to start it - but I'm looking forward to it.

Time flew. I'm back home already, full of good memories of the launch and the rest of my stay, and these reflections on that intriguing oddness of the overlap between real life and blogging.

I realise too that I'm rambling: I'll stop now.

I hope that this final comment won't detract from or diminish the value and the enjoyment of the interactions mentioned above, since they've been very much shared experiences and, in nmj's case the evening was, as it should be, all about her.

But I have to say, it does seem as though I've found some new ways to say "me, me, ME!"