Thursday, 31 December 2009

A review of how 2009 was for me in as few words as possible, month by month

January was ok, and so was I.

February had some light and a lot of dark, and so did I.

March I was trying to come to terms with February.

April I was having to get things organised.

May I was glad I'd got things organised.

June I got healthy.

July I felt healthy.

August I felt like a musician again.

September I can't remember.

October was when hope became a companion.

November was busy, and so was I.

December was like the previous eleven months rolled into one, and so was I.

My very best wishes to you all for 2010.

Monday, 28 December 2009


My Grandmother was a crumpled heap on the hospital bed, she looked utterly insubstantial. The disarray of limbs, joints and digits, ill-defined by the bed sheets thrown over them, barely seemed to suggest any sense of mass at all. They were just there.

It wasn't easy seeing her lying there: gravity cruelly altered the contours of her 94-year-old face, seemed to give a sense of weight that was missing from the rest of her, to diminish the life and spirit. She was incorporeal, a ghost.

She didn't know me at first, but welcomed my presence. She complained that she was thirsty, so I reached for the beaker on the tray by the bed. It had a spill-proof lid with a spout, like the ones I remember drinking from as a child. I held it as she took a few sips: the ease at which I was able to assist was inversely proportionate to my ability to bear that moment. (Oddly, my recollection of that moment is that it was already dark outside, the lighting being that of the lamps on the ward. It wasn't the case though, the skies were bright and clear and the sun had almost an hour before it would set.)

My mother had gone to find a nurse, who came and helped my grandmother out of bed and into the chair. I stood away and looked out of the window for a few moments, and then when I turned round and saw her sat upright, it was as though the life had returned to her eyes: no less frail overall, but her spirit - as addled as it is - stronger than her body.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Too many words here's a few pictures until I get the big spaghetti-like jumble of language untied and in some sort of order. No prizes for guessing where they're from.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Ich bin's

There's somebody in this picture you might recognise. Well you might recognise me if you happen to know what I look like in the first place. If that was the case, it would still be a bit of a struggle, given the size of the image. Still if you click on it to enlarge it, I'm the one on the right-hand pavement standing on my own and wearing black. Yes just there - about two-thirds to the right of the image, and more or less three-quarters of the way down from the top edge. Or, if it makes any more sense, I'm several metres to the right of the red bus.

Ok, perhaps I'll make it a little easier to spot me:

Yep there I am, the one waving my arms.

Still finding it difficult? Ok, I'll move to a different webcam. You can even get a sense that I'm using a mobile phone to send and receive text messages (along the lines of "try moving forwards and five paces to your right", for example).

For the avoidance of any doubt, I'll wave my arms about again.

Yep, that's me that is.

Friday, 11 December 2009


It would pain me not to at least try and improve what language skills I have whilst I´m here. But I felt very content yesterday whilst sipping gluhwein and sheltering in a little cabin in the Christmas Market on Breitschieidplatz: it was the realization that I didn´t have much of an idea of what my fellow gluhwein-drinkers, nor the throngs of market-goers, were saying.

It made it easier to switch off at last, and the realization made me grin. Well either that, or the grinning was caused by the generous shot of amaretto in the gluhwein.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Breathe out

I had a bit of a meltdown on Sunday, it was an odd experience. I'd just finished working on some music and also having a phone conversation (not at the same time) and then I just felt overwhelmed and rather shaky. It wasn't a panic attack - I had those often enough in the past to be able to draw a distinction - but it was a bit disorientating and it took me a while to fully steady myself.

I think what it was, was my mind and body telling me - oi, you need to take it easy - a timely warning, since things have been non-stop for the last 2 or 3 months.

Conversely, as I played my set onstage last night - this was the gig I've been waiting for - I felt very calm and relaxed. Cocooned, even. A couple of beers had washed away the tiredness of work, but left me with a clarity and a focus that enabled me just to get on with it: to enjoy it, actually. The calmness stayed with me all evening, and has done so in the aftermath.

I'm away from this afternoon, flying tomorrow. I hope to blog when I reach my destination.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

De Profundis

I occasionally get the urge to blog something really deep, profound and meaningful.

Without fail, that urge is accompanied by a complete lack of anything really deep, profound and meaningful to blog about.

I think it's probably for the best that those two conditions always seem to occur simultaneously


Friday, 4 December 2009


Just a few days remain before my next gig. It's the one that I've been focussing all my attention on...or rather, had been focussing all my attention on until the last one came up which required a different approach entirely.

I just had a run-through of two alternative sets to play. Well, each version comprises the same set except for the last piece. I've got a new one which I do like but which isn't quite there yet: the last piece will either be that one or a tried and tested one which I've played a few times now.

Generally speaking, I'd rather play a completely new one with all its flaws and rough edges, than rely on one which I'm familiar with. Having said that, I'll be opening my set with a completely new one anyway, plus I've shuffled the order around and I've got another one in there which has only been performed live once before. The thing is, ending the set with the tried and tested one, as it were, does seem to make the whole thing more homogenous, more of a solid unit (if that makes sense), and when I played that version through it gave me a lot of confidence.

I've the weekend to play around with it all, but it feels like a luxury to be in such a position. Particularly when the night of the gig promises - as an event in its own right, regardless of my contribution - to be a really good night anyway.

I've two more days of work in my daytime job, then the gig, then I'm off for my break in Berlin.

I should make the most of this particular moment in time. There are shadows, but some of those, at least, are because the lights are brighter at this precise moment than I've known them to be for a while.

The new track that I'll be opening with - though largely an interpretation of someone else's music rather than my own - was completed in a couple of hours in the middle of the week, based on the following formula:

You can see why I'm excited about it, I'm sure.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Cardinal sin

Yes, I just committed one earlier. Something I'd vowed never to do.

I had left work and hopped on a bus. Tedium it was, as we edged our way out of town agonizingly slowly, so I welcomed the distraction of a call on my mobile. It was a friend enquiring about events and arrangements for this evening.

Whereabouts are you at the moment, said friend asked me.

I'm on the bus, I replied.

Damn. Take me outside to be shot, throw me into a pit of snakes, whatever: I surely deserve such a fate, or worse. For there's nothing I can bear less than that mundane, banal, endlessly-repeated phrase uttered by loud voices conducting one half of a desultory mobile-phone conversation.

I'm on the bus.

Well at least my own voice wasn't loud: I'd retained enough self-awareness to make sure of that.

But I said it. That phrase.

I won't do it again, I promise. I swear.

A happier exchange of words did occur today though, and I hope it makes up just a tiny bit for the above transgression.

Someone from a bunch of bright-eyed and pathologically enthusiastic market researchers (or something of that ilk) approached me in a manner which can only be described as - well, bright-eyed and pathologically enthusiastic.

Excuse me sir, I'm sorry to bother you!!!!

I smiled and tried to appear bright-eyed in return.

That's alright, I said, no problem!! and carried on walking.

Monday, 30 November 2009

A hand on my shoulder

I can always tell when there's something bothering me or just on my mind, since my subconscious tends to cast my dad in a cameo role in one of my dreams. Usually this is unsettling in itself: no matter what he's doing, his very presence nags at me and tells me there's something not right, all isn't as it should be.

The reasons for this will be obvious to those who might recall previous writings about my dad, namely that he's been dead for well over a decade, in fact closer now to a decade and a half. So whenever he appears in a dream scenario, especially if he appears alive and well, then the residue of feelings I have about him tend to resonate with a disquieting plangency.

It reminds me of another dream I sometimes have, that of a loved family cat. In the dream, the cat is sitting purring, contented, on the hot coals of an open fire. The cat looks well, and happy, but I know it shouldn't be, and I have a sense of dread for what must surely be an inevitability.

Last night, my dad was in my dream, but it was different...very different. I was unsettled by my own circumstances, and here was my dad just nearby. Before I could start to think but...hang on, aren't you come you look healthy? or such like, he stood over me, and put a hand on my shoulder.

A very comforting hand on my shoulder. What was communicated from him to me, powerfully but wordlessly, was, it's ok, don't worry. It'll be alright.

This has never been my dream-projection of him before, and on waking this morning, I was quite startled.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Unmitigated disaster

I've realised that I've got a ritual, particularly the day before I'm due to play a gig. Wednesday saw me enact such a ritual: on getting home from work I plugged everything in and did a final run-through of my set.

Once was enough, I knew it was too late to make any changes. Besides, I was happy enough with what I was playing, particularly after the relatively last-minute adjustments I'd made the previous day.

Thus complete, I put everything away, and then set about giving the bathroom a good clean. Then I set about giving the kitchen a good clean. Then I set about giving my living room and bedroom a good clean. Then I took a few bags of stuff down to the nearest recycling point, then I came back and did some more cleaning and tidying. At the end of the evening I sat down and relaxed with what felt like a couple of well-earned beers before heading off to bed.

Now on the one hand there are straightforward reasons for all these post-rehearsal chores, in that I would be entertaining guests, plus the place was ready for a clean anyway. On the other, I think what it serves to do is to soak up some of the nervous energy by spending time on straightforward tasks which have a clear beginning, middle and end. It gives me a sense of calm solitude which I really appreciate.

The gig itself went well, and I was glad I'd put in all the extra effort to tailor my set to be more suitable for the atmosphere of the event. Just teasing then, in calling this post Unmitigated disaster.

I don't feel particularly vulnerable when I'm on stage: the focus required - not to mention the volume levels - tends to take care of that. (Even so, I can only bring to mind one occasion where I was so relaxed and immersed in what I was doing that I more or less forgot I was on stage, and that was some years ago.)

No, I feel vulnerable afterwards: after all the preparation and the build up, then to play a gig which goes well (and I was pleased with the response I got) is initially a relief and a good feeling. But then, something else sometimes kicks in - a day or so later - in which I feel a bit lost, maybe lonely, certainly in need of some kind of reassurance. That's definitely been the case this weekend, and in some ways I'm looking forward to the normality and the routine of work.

Still, I now have to continue my preparations in earnest for the next gig. There isn't much time and I want to try and get two new pieces finished and ready. I've just done two hours of work this evening and it was very unsettling: back in the mode of feeling like I face an uphill task, like I was starting again from scratch, even.

But then, I have to remind myself: it's ok, and if I don't get all the new stuff ready, it's not the end of the world. I shall resume with it tomorrow, at which point I should be in a more suitable frame of mind for such things.

Thursday, 26 November 2009


1. Apart from the temperature, one clear indicator of the fact that it's turned a bit cold round here is that, mysteriously (and maddeningly), the windows on the buses are open. Whereas during the few really hot and humid days in the summer, people kept them closed. Despite the heating being on.

2. I passed an elderly gentlemen earlier who was in conversation with someone. "It doesn't get any warmer, does it?" I heard him say. I was very tempted to march up to him and call him a climate change sceptic.

3. I'm onstage in a few hours.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009


Or preoccupied, more like. I play later this week and I've just reached the point where I'm sufficiently ok with the material I'm going to play. Whilst in a waiting room at the eye hospital today it suddenly occurred to me that the final track I'd been working on just didn't quite fit in - or it had something missing which needs to be resolved. It's been bugging me.

In a flash I remembered a track which was in a similarly unfinished state (and has been for some months) but which would sit so much better with the rest of my set: as a result it's been comparatively light work to reach a point of resolve with it, and now I can actually look forward to the gig. At last.

So don't mind me, I feel a little bit neglectful of recent bloggy comments and so on, but I'll pay more attention round here after the gig is done. I'll let you know how it went, too (unless it's an unmitigated disaster).

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Fun sized chunks of anxiety

Sort of sums up my week, though not in a negative way: I've an extra gig coming up very soon, and as a consequence I have a set of material almost ready - much of which didn't exist in any usable or meaningful form this time last week.

I also have a slightly changed attitude towards my tinnitus (again, not in a negative way).

The gig will be a very different - and more mellow - affair to the other one that I've been planning for, hence the decision (a very daunting decision it was, at the beginning of the week) to work on material which will be, at least to a degree, more suitable for this particular occasion.

I've a couple of days away from all this though, my grandma turns 94 next week, so I'll be wishing her happy birthday this weekend.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009


Just after I passed by a woman who was selling Big Issue magazine earlier, I heard another woman say loudly (and clearly within earshot of the vendor),

Fucking hell, she's got a gold tooth, and she's selling the Big Issue? How do you work that one out??

Well, where to start?

How about something like, gold teeth and homelessness aren't mutually exclusive?

Yep, that'll do. Not too difficult, was it?

Friday, 13 November 2009


These are not the bananas I'm looking for.

The ones I'm looking for were in focus, for one thing. No, these are a new purchase, in order to address the mystery banana-deficit which recently occurred - and which has yet to be solved.

And (as well as starting a sentence with such a word) I ask again the question (only this time with swearwords as a necessary intensifier):


In bold type, as well.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Misreading the signs (6)

(Mis-)Spotted earlier:

Free Poignancy Test Available Here

- and one I recall from a few weeks ago,

Working To Save The Livers Of The Elderly

(for those who have found my blog only recently, these are examples of the many times when I glance in passing at adverts, posters, signs, headlines and so on, and somehow manage to misread them and give them a rather different meaning).

In other news, I bought a bunch of bananas along with the rest of my groceries the other day. Can I find them?

(sorry for shouting)

Monday, 9 November 2009

Torrential brain (or, snatching jaws from the victory of defeat)

Nothing like a modest title for a blog post, I tend to think. Yes, this one is definitely nothing like a modest title for a blog post.


I've been in a pretty dark place the last few days. Not a bad place, I hasten to add, but a dark one nonetheless. Do excuse me the indulgence of quoting myself from a previous post, but this is the key to what it's been all about:

I've been spending a lot of my evening time working on more music. New stuff, and brushing up some existing ideas. I've already found myself with a little bit of insight into the near future, knowing what my mental processes are like when developing such ideas: they feel exciting and fresh and worth pursuing right now, and I'm pretty sure that in a couple of weeks time I'll think they're all nothing more than various grades of absolute tedious shite, and that's when I'll start worrying, as the time gets ever nearer.

Yep, and that's hit me with full force in the last week or so. This time a couple of weeks ago I was doing just fine, to the extent that after an evening's work hunched in front of laptop, guitar, keyboards and whatever else, I would then listen to a recording of the set I played at the end of August: feeling perhaps a little elated I would grin as the recording played one song and then the next (not least at the fact that there was applause), thinking to myself, I can't fail!

The ideas have been filling my mind, and any spare time at work - or anywhere else for that matter - has seen me immersed in their flow. In some ways work has felt like an anchor, or something to keep my feet on the ground. Last week I spent plenty of time working on these ideas, allowing for happy accidents, twists and turns into unplanned territory, keeping the whole process elastic and fresh, feeling constructive about it all.

Until Friday. I was just tired on Friday. I usually am, and I'm hardly unique in that respect. I was going out in the evening anyway, so when I got home I just sort of flopped for a while before heading out. Which meant that I'd already taken a step back from the music. Which meant that at the back of my mind were rumblings of disquiet searching around for an outlet, a means with which to bother me.

The feeling built over the weekend. For a change, my drink of choice on Friday and Saturday night was red wine (as opposed to beer) and that also seemed to foster a completely different mentality. The very fact of standing chatting to friends with a glass of wine rather than a pint of Abbot's informed all sorts of subtle variations on what would be the norm: in terms of the way the wine affected me, in terms of the different pace at which I drank, in terms of the after effects. Whilst I didn't get any further than being merry and enjoying both evenings out, then by Sunday I felt rather low and washed out, and also felt more removed from the previous sense of sheer immersion in the music making process.

That plangent rumbling of disquiet at the back of my mind found its outlet with full force between the hours of 3 and 5am this morning as I lay unable to sleep, being taunted by the very opposite of the spirit that had caused me to rhetorically ask, how can I fail? so recently. Now I was just as immersed in self doubt and panic, thinking what the hell have I been doing these last couple of weeks? It's shit - complete and utter shit! I've wasted too much time, I won't be ready for the upcoming gigs, I'm unprepared and my ideas are all terrible and I don't know what the fuck I'm gonna do though it's obvious I'm going to completely show myself up and I'm going to fail and then where will I be and so on and so forth.

I got back to sleep.

This evening I was more tired than Friday. Thankfully today has been pretty hectic, which soaked up some of the strange negativity that plagued even my better moments over the weekend - and which definitely stopped me from succumbing to the after effects of a poor night's sleep. Back home I sat around for a while, then quite begrudgingly I dragged myself over to the laptop and various other bits of equipment.

Fuck it, I thought. Just do something. I resumed work on something I'd left alone for a couple of weeks. Don't expect anything, I thought. Just go through some of the mechanics needed to take it a stage further, and see what happens. No, don't even see what happens, it's going to be shit anyway. I mean, really shit. It doesn't matter.

Expectations thus reduced, it took minutes before I was immersed once again and spent the next three hours seeing the realisation of this particular idea begin to take more definite shape: suddenly the pendulum has swung the other way again and I'm seeing things in terms of possibility. Three hours of editing and converting sound files, altering tempos, adding filters, removing filters again, and then just turning the volume up and playing.

Sometimes I wonder why on earth I put myself through all these processes: and then I remember, this is just how I seem to deal with stuff.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Miswriting the Signs

Yes, I read the sign correctly for once.

The sign was in the window of a furniture shop, which purportedly sells

Chester Draws

Must pop in there one day and see what the hell that is.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Olive dream

I dreamt I was in an old - no, a positively ancient - building, where archaic rituals took place and where creaking doors were opened as part of these rituals, seemingly as though they were portals to the very past itself.

I was there with a co-conspirator, we were infiltrators, out to cause serious havoc and mischief. We knew what to do: we were armed with a jar of pitted olives and some toothpicks.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Heavy duty

I was in the supermarket yesterday morning, on the last day of a long weekend well away from work and anything related.

The cashier, as she was scanning my items through the checkout till, said

Do you want me to give you the heavy stuff?

My immediate (but thankfully unspoken) response, was to wonder whether I should ask,

What's going on? Is everything alright?

...and then I realised she was just referring to the stuff I was buying, that it would make sense put the heavier things in my bag first. At times like this I wonder if there's a part of me which never quite truly leaves work behind.

Still, I also remember the time when a cashier had to give me all of my change in coins. She apologised as she did so.

I'm sorry, I've got no notes.

I'm not sure quite how I resisted the temptation to say Well, how do you smell?, though it was probably for the best that I did so.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Sunset, sea and sand

There were plenty of people around, and the muffled throb of music emanating from the pier. Somehow, though, I just remember connecting with the silence, and feeling blissfully far away.

Saturday, 31 October 2009


One aspect of being a bit hectic and having lots to (constructively) think about recently is that I worry less. My level of worry is perhaps currently not too far from what might be considered "normal" or even "healthy." I think this is partially what I was referring to in the previous post.

There are a couple of things happening at the moment which would otherwise, I think it's reasonable to say, be exercising me far more than they actually are, but which are thus contained - though not ignored or diminished.

One of these is the health of my mother. I spent the day in London yesterday but had asked her to ring me and let me know how things were once she had been to the hospital - she had an appointment in the afternoon, the outcome of which was potentially cause for concern.

I didn't get a call on my mobile, but thought I may as well wait until I got home: she usually leaves messages on my landline. I didn't get home until very late last night, however there was no message, nor did she appear to have actually called in the first place. It was too late to ring her and I was too tired anyway.

So this morning when I got up I could feel myself tapping into the worry. Things which have been there in the back of my mind, starting to head into view and, in the not-knowing, a hint of extrapolation of anxiety-provoking scenarios.

It was the latter that made me tell myself to get a grip and just get on and make the phone call. So I got a grip and made the phone call and (not for the first time), things are ok and suitably contained in themselves for the time being - and what had happened was that my mother must have misdialled my number. She had left a message for me, unfortunately on someone else's phone.

Worry has thus been put back in its place. But it reminded me in stark terms just how much better I'm functioning, the fact that there's been so little opportunity to allow it to flourish.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Tired but

I had a long day at work yesterday, I didn't get through my door until midnight precisely. It wasn't a bad day by any means, but tiring due to the sheer number of hours involved.

Today I knew I had plenty of things to do, but I also know what I'm like when I'm tired. I'd expected that the day would drag and that my various coping skills and ability to deal with situations would be diminished and that I would wallow in my lack of energy. Also that I would put many things off until sometime later (as in, not today).

The alarm went off this morning, and in the immediacy of that moment it felt like I made a snap decision: just get up and do what you need to do - starting now - or let the day go to waste through sheer avoidance. I chose the former. I hate the phrase I'm about to use,'s amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it.

I'm not saying I had a day of massive achievements or anything like that. Because I didn't. But I got into work early and faced all the things I actually had time to deal with today: interestingly I felt like there was less pressure on me with regard to a particular situation, one which would normally be playing on my mind. I left work later than usual as well.

What I am actually saying, is that it's encouraging to me to know that I can be just as capable (more so, is what it feels like on the strength of today) in circumstances in which it would be understandable if I allowed myself not to make the effort.

Tired as I am, it's a source of comfort.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

21 years later

...I searched for, and found this earlier on today. One of those songs which had a real impact on me at the time: mainly the chord sequence and the vocal melody, I have never paid particular attention to the lyrics. So it's the first time I've heard it since around 1988, though the chords and melody have never really been too far from my consciousness in the interim.

It is, for me, an absolute gem, and it was a delight to hear it this morning. To my mind it hasn't dated at all badly.

Thursday, 22 October 2009


So I just played a gig this evening. I didn't mention it on here, which was part of wanting to keep it low-key.

It was indeed a low-key affair, not many people there, which I was absolutely fine with: to a large extent, I was viewing it as more valuable practice in anticipation of the gig I'm playing in December. It had certain frustrations: I'm happy with the material I played, but it already feels like old material, and I need to develop and consolidate the new stuff I'm working on.

I felt a little like a fish out of water. Whatever the merits or otherwise of my music, I was playing alongside two other artists who do very improvisational, noise and texture-based work - it made my stuff feel (to me) conventional and structured by comparison. I had melody (in parts), they had drones and walls of noise. I had beats, they had nothing of the sort.

It wasn't as black and white as that, there are elements aplently that I had in common with what they did, and between us we had an interesting discussion about just who was, taking everything into account, the most experimental amongst us.

I enjoyed playing my set, regardless, and I don't think it was quite so contrasting to the rest of the evening's music as my self-consciousness would try and persuade me. But what was really delicious was that, after I'd finished, all three of us returned to the stage to fill the remaining time with further improvisation.

What I really enjoyed was that - whatever the differences in form of the music we'd individually played earlier - we gelled together really well as an improvisational unit. It reminded me how much I like that side of performance and I appreciated that the three of us were able to meet, musically speaking, at a similar level. It feels like a bit of a confidence booster that I was able to change from one mode to another. I said I would be up for doing more of the same.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Following the signs and not, for once, misreading them (I hope)

Come December, I know that after the slog of the next few weeks, I'll be needing a break. I booked some time off work accordingly, after which it was a case of wondering where to go.

I had a number of ideas, but I wasn't sure.

I was musing on this - and many other things besides - one day last week as I walked a wayward route home from work. There'd been a lot for me to take in that day as regards work, most of it positive: potential, planned developments which may mean that I'm able to head in more of a creative direction and which would possibly formalise my role in that respect.

I sat discussing this on the phone with a colleague as I sat having some food in a waterside cafe, after which I embarked on what became quite a long (two hours) but lovely walk home: I took a turning away from the familiar route and along a road which skirted the university grounds.

It was truly autumn at its best, the russet of the leaves contrasting with the extensive grassland: the trees and various other flora simultaneously masking and adding a decorative flourish to the stately buildings, the latter's neo-classical stylings already beginning to dissolve gracefully into silhouette against the late afternoon sky.

It reminded me of my many wanderings around and beyond Museuminsel, Unter den Linden and other such places besides and beyond. I felt a hankering, but wouldn't it be a little too safe to head back to what now feels like familiar territory? Wouldn't it be worth being more adventurous, throwing caution to the wind and heading off to somewhere I've never been before?

I was weighing this up as I continued on my walk, the urge to broaden my horizons battling for space with the urge to renew my acquaintance with a place I already know and love. Just round the corner from home, I crossed the road and squeezed through the gap between two parked cars to get onto the pavement. I happened to look down at one of the cars. Berlingo was the name/brand of the car.

That decided it - well why not? - and I booked my flights and accommodation the following evening.

Sure, it is familiar territory, but it will be the first time I will have headed overseas and been on my own for the duration of the holiday. I believe it will stand me in good stead for a couple of further, more adventurous trips I intend to take next year.

Anyway, I hope I shall enjoy what Berlin has to offer in early December.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Football in the future (or is it the past?)

So tonight in a little while I shall be watching England play their last game in the qualifiers for the world cup finals in 2010. Football, that is (or soccer, if you will). It's a rare luxury to be able to watch such a game in the knowledge that we've already qualified and so nothing rests on this game except that hopefully we play well and do ourselves full credit as far as possible.

I also have the luxury of being able to watch the game live, online, as I did when we sealed our qualification in the game against Croatia a few weeks ago. The only thing is, it's not quite live: online, it's delayed from real time (and tv broadcast time) by about 30 or 40 seconds. Not a problem, such a short delay isn't going to make any difference to me as I watch the game.

Well, that's what I thought in the aforementioned England - Croatia match. Not that I was thinking about it as Frank Lampard readied himself to take on the Croatian goalkeeper from the penalty spot: always a tense and exciting moment. I sat agog, watching the screen as the referee blew the whistle, the signal for Lampard to step forward and take his shot.

Just as he was about to do so, I picked up a text message on my phone - me and a friend always exchange dozens of messages during these matches, providing our own commentary. Just before Lampard approached the spot and took his kick, I read the text.

*yes! great goal!!*

How does he know? I thought to myself, as I looked up to watch Lampard's shot hit the back of the net. Then I remembered about the time delay, which meant from my perspective that my friend was watching the match more than half a minute into the future. I had to urge him to count to 30 before he sent me a text in the event that England scored again (which they did, of course). Our exchange of messages then went off at ridiculous tangents as I quizzed him about what it was like to be living in the future (*oh, you know, jet packs, food pills, that kind of thing*).


Watching the football tonght will also serve as an evening off for me - I've been spending a lot of my evening time working on more music. New stuff, and brushing up some existing ideas. I've already found myself with a little bit of insight into the near future, knowing what my mental processes are like when developing such ideas: they feel exciting and fresh and worth pursuing right now, and I'm pretty sure that in a couple of weeks time I'll think they're all nothing more than various grades of absolute tedious shite, and that's when I'll start worrying, as the time gets ever nearer.

Thankfully, what I've just described has (so far) never been the final stage of said process.

Thursday, 8 October 2009


Ok I'm being silly, the title is because this is my 300th post, and there were (supposedly, but not actually) 300 Spartans up on the mountain pass of the same name fighting a spirited but doomed fight in the face of overwhelming odds. Etc. Don't correct me if I'm getting mixed up already*.

Anyway, could somebody tell me how you pronounce Thermopylae? It's one of those words I've never said out loud, as far as I remember - mainly because it's not often it tends to crop up in conversation -

Going on holiday?

Yes, heading off to Thermopylae for a stag weekend at the end of the month.

Really? Oh, and I never thought you pronounced Thermopylae like that: sounds odd.

Oh just fuck off.

Anyway to go off on a tangent, I'm looking forward to playing a support slot for one of my favourite bands in a few weeks' time (use the Spartan analogy here too if you wish, but I won't necessarily endorse it), it's pretty thrilling in fact. Not that I'm going to say which band it is - on the off-chance you may have even heard of them - what with wanting to keep my anonymity and all that. I may find a way of posting an indirect, sneaky kind of link at some point.

An acquaintance of mine asked me the other day how the music was going - this was before I had the exciting news of the aforementioned support slot - and then asked what kind of music I do.

Never an easy question to answer, but another friend who was with me interjected at this point, and said, stressful. He makes very stressful music.

I quite like that description.

*I recommend, by the way, Persian Fire by Tom Holland, for a highly readable and engaging account of the Greco-Persian wars.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Dipping my toe in again

May I say that it's a rather refreshing change to be pretty hectic in that there Real Life thingy. Such a state of affairs will be continuing at least for the next few weeks, and I have a couple of things coming up which are potentially very exciting for me personally.

However, I do miss blogging - or, more precisely, I miss the interaction with my fellow bloggers - and so I aim to begin to incorporate bloggy-type things into my time once again: maybe in a low-key kind of way for a little while.

I should (well, there's nothing to say that I should: nonetheless, I will) point out that since I last posted here, I am now the owner of a pair of reading glasses, having been for an eye test for the first time in perhaps nearly a quarter of a century.

Oh, and I seem to remember saying last time that I would be catching up with a small number of people to whom I owe emails, etc. Have I done so? Bollocks have I. Oops. Hope no one's been holding their breath...

Monday, 7 September 2009

This page is designed not to have any text on it

- is what it said on otherwise blank pages amidst college documents relating to a course I was doing a few years ago. A bit of a design flaw there, I think.

Similarly, in that respect, I'm posting to say that I appear to be having a break from posting. I may continue with my ceaseless campaign of snide comments and irrelevances on other people's blogs (you won't get rid of me that easily, oh no), but otherwise it feels like it's time once again to put the old bloggy batteries on charge. It may mean that I catch up with the writing of (and responding to) emails, and perhaps even a bit of housework.

There will be more posts here as and when they appear, and hopefully they will be all the better for my having had a short rest in the meantime. Cheers me dears!

Monday, 31 August 2009


In recent years, when I've returned back from a holiday - whether on these shores or further afield - I've tended to find the transition from holiday mode back to home/work mode an increasingly difficult one to manage, at least within the first couple of days or so of that transition.

Apart from the various - and obvious - benefits and attractions of a holiday, I think it's also about having the space for ideas to flow, ideas which otherwise get submerged by work related concerns and by routine, and so on and so forth.

I mention this because events like the one I played at on Saturday night also give me some of that space, albeit in a very different manner: a space in which I'm forced to engage with what's around me, the stuff of my everyday life and surroundings, rather than a blissful removal to a completely different location.

Thing is, it's just as good, because it reminds me that I can be part of things, feel more connected than I often allow myself to.

Anyway enough of such semi-abstract musings, the main thing to report is that the event was really good, memorable and enjoyable all round (it was a fundraiser for a good cause too). The atmosphere was warm and lively, and a lot of people turned up to see a number of weird and wonderful bands playing.

I played a relatively short set - around 20 minutes - since there was a fairly tight schedule to keep to. I seemed to get a very, very positive reaction too - in terms of immediate audience response, and also in terms of comments afterwards. It's given me a bit of a boost again, I must do more of this stuff.

What I've been left with in the aftermath (apart from ringing ears) is a feeling of increased confidence in such things, more than I've felt for a while. Time to capitalise on it.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Gift/ tension

I was given a gift last night - unexpected, out of the blue (I wonder, if one were to look into the blue beforehand, would it mean there were no surprises?), and very welcome also. A very generous gift.

It was laced with a certain something: the words, it's one less thing that you would need to deal with, should anything happen.

The anything in question being the passing, timely or otherwise, of the giver.

I didn't focus on this too much though: I'm playing tonight, and I'm a little nervous. OCD comes into play - how many times do I need to check I've got all the leads, power cables, plectrums etc that I need - and, what if the laptop crashes, what if the guitar strings all break, what if my fingers fall off and so on and so forth. Yes I'm tempting fate, but I like the tension.

Then I remember, it should actually be fun. Plus, after a couple of beers, and having to deal with the rigours of setting up, soundchecking and so on - the actualities rather than the what ifs - then the OCD should fly out of the window (checking 3 times that it closed the window properly after departing), and the whole thing will be over all too quickly.

Thursday, 27 August 2009


Sometimes I catch myself and wonder what I might look like should I reach a ripe old age (dependent on what the definition of a ripe old age might be). Then I remember my paternal grandfather, born in 1898 (and dead by the late 1970s), and it occurs to me that I'll possibly look like him more than anyone else.

His name was Evelyn. I remember him, as an old man of course, whereas I was a child. I do remember his eyes being full of spirit as much as his body was weary, and I can but hope.

Monday, 24 August 2009


I'm playing again soon, and this time some of it is going to be more guitar-based. I was a bit concerned that my fretwork might be getting a bit too arthritic to hold it together, but I don't seem to be doing too badly.

Sunday, 23 August 2009


I intervened and possibly stopped someone getting the shit kicked out of them yesterday evening while I was on the bus. The guy who would have been on the receiving end of said kicking was behaving and speaking in a way which appeared like he was trying to wind anyone up and to get a reaction out of them, and it was clearly in danger of working.

I'm not sure why it felt safe enough to intervene, but it did. Just one of those judgment calls I suppose. Plus I didn't want my evening spoilt by the prospect of yet more violence on the bus, I was on my way somewhere nice. Thankfully the other guy who sounded ready to deliver a beating listened to me, and nodded his acknowledgment when he got off.

I'd made the assumption that the one doing the winding up had some sort of condition: he didn't appear drunk but his behaviour was obviously inappropriate and rendering him vulnerable to violence. He now started roundly and imperiously denouncing me, I told him I was having nothing to do with him or his conversation and I moved further away from him. Not that that deterred him, he carried on more loudly.

The last thing I did though was ask him a question, and out of the resultant babble of slurs and accusations that uttered forth he did let slip that he had a condition. I suppose it could have been this that made me feel safe in the first place in terms of intervening, the assumptions I'd made put me into work mode: I felt calm and didn't let him get to me.

I did go on to have a lovely evening, but I carried a sense of weariness at the back of my mind: too often there seems to be needless aggravation of one sort or another, and I'm sick of it.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

A note of thanks... the driver who pulled up alongside me whilst I was cycling along a remote countryside lane earlier this evening, wound the window down and issued forth a series of expletives around which were anchored some semi-coherent words concerning the fact that he doesn't pay his road tax for the use of cyclists (I wonder if he might have used a shorter word beginning with "c" though) like me.

For one thing, I can't say that I felt particularly intimidated. Nor did I betray any response other than to stare at him as he spoke and then drove off (I'd like to think that I looked impassive in my shades - just allow me that indulgence will you? Thanks), and in fact I felt a sort of pity when I saw him do the same to another cyclist further along the lane and up the hill. Well, when I say pity, what I really mean is that I found it all a bit pathetic, and wondered what he was trying to compensate for.

The thanks are in order though, for the fact that the annoyance and anger that it provoked in me meant that I shaved a good five minutes off my time for this particular route, and I feel thoroughly invigorated as a result.

Good job really.

Saturday, 15 August 2009


For anyone else too, but for Fire Byrd first and foremost at the present moment in time.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Journeys, planned

It's a very different experience, walking on your own. I know the territory in the photographs from a number of visits over the years, whether on foot or en velo. Each previous time has always been in the (welcome) company of others: friends who are experienced navigators and mapreaders, often in challenging conditions. As such, I've always left the planning of the routes, and the navigation itself, in their more than capable hands.

So while I was away the other week I did a couple of lengthy walks, and a couple of bike rides, which required me to do some mapreading and a certain amount of planning. I think one reason I've shied away from this side of things previously, is that I thought I had the best of it in terms of just being out there and making the most of the scenery rather than having to keep referring to a map.

How wrong I was: I feel now like I've got so much more thorough an overview of the landscapes I was traversing through, due to the very fact that I needed to refer to the map on a periodic basis. I feel a little richer for it.

I think I also gained from the very heavy rain that was present for a couple of days. I was never going to let it deter me from getting out there and walking or cycling as mentioned. On the first day of "proper" walking (as opposed to the few miles down to the pub in the next village, where the previous bit of film was shot) I spent a few minutes stood under a tree, making use of what shelter it afforded me, as the rain came down relentlessly, and wondering if it was absurd to carry on with my planned route: in the end I realised it was more about whether I had the confidence to carry on with it and so I steeled myself against the weather and strode out once more.

The sense of liberty this gave me felt quite tangible, and an hour or so later when the rain had eased I was wondering how on earth I might have doubted that the best option would be to press on. Thus, after a mild blip, I really got into my stride (yes, quite literally I suppose), and made the most of my time strolling through beautiful scenery.

I think the other motivating factor was that the couple of pints (or so) that I would be having in the local pub later on would feel so much more satisfying for the fact that I'd enjoyed making the effort, and had a fulfilling day.

I've chosen the pictures fairly randomly from the few days in question rather than arrange a few in sequence : I may post more, it was difficult not to take pictures which turned out well.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

A journey, remembered

More photos and/or film from last week will have to wait: for some reason, I had a compulsion to post the following memories from around 9 years ago:

I remember getting on the coach to London at midday, and finding myself sat next to a bloke who was built like a brick shithouse, and who was also very genial. We talked about many things for the duration of the journey to London, sparked off by one of us making a comment on how so many of our fellow passengers seemed in a mad rush to get on the coach first.

I remember being at the coach station in London and having an hour or two to wait. I phoned France (not all of it, mind) and left a message, Je suis en route. I also had to stop myself staring incredulously at a man who was wearing orange dungarees and a matching headband.

I remember setting off from London Victoria on the coach after a few minutes delay, someone was on the wrong coach and refused to get off. I felt a little anxious because, according to the itinerary, I was to change coaches in Lyon with just 15 minutes to spare. I decided to stop worrying about this and let things be as they may: we had been on the road for mere minutes when our coach broke down on the fast lane of the M25 (during the start of rush hour on a Friday afternoon).

I remember that sat next to me was a chap called JS (I still remember his name), a youngish guy, also very genial, and of mixed heritage. He was travelling to part of France to inherit some property and farmland from an elderly relative who had recently died. We too talked about many things, not least our concerns about the competence of the coach drivers. He laughed out loud when, as we drove onto the ferry at Dover, I told him I was going to the bar - but I won't be happy if I see either of those fucking drivers having a beer.

I vaguely remember having a drink at the bar on the ferry.

I remember it being very late in the evening as we drove along French motorways, and that there was something very comforting about being on a stretch of the Paris-Reims route for the second time that year. All the previous times I'd journeyed on that stretch of road had memories of good times attached to them.

I remember The Matrix being shown on the onboard TV screen. It was late at night now, and the film was a very odd one to watch while drifting in and out of a very transitory sleep.

I remember we stopped at Dijon for a short break. It was perhaps an hour or so after first light, so it was magically quiet: I marvelled at the early-morning mist and the bright-but hazy sunshine. I was fatigued through lack of sleep, but somehow this seemed to enhance the beauty of that particular moment.

I remember the coach station at Lyon, and that we had miraculously arrived there with time to spare. Lyon is a city that I've travelled through a number of times and that I would like to explore, but never had the opportunity. The most time I've spent there was changing coaches on both the outward and return journeys, within the confines of the station interior. This mild frustration was very much with me on the occasion described.

I remember the coach stopping at Orange, and me wishing JS all the best: he was completing the final leg of his journey to a rural estate near Avignon. He seemed an all-round good bloke, and I wondered just how much this inheritance might shape his future, possibly even change it beyond recognition. I liked that travelling relatively long distances by road meant that you spent time with people you might otherwise never meet: fascinating, interesting people who add a whole extra dimension to the many elements of the journey.

I remember Montpellier as being sun-bleached, but by now I was more keenly anticipating my destination rather than savouring the journey for its own sake.

I remember finally disembarking at Beziers: another phone call and then I browsed the bookshop next to the station whilst waiting for a lift. I saw a copy of Umberto Eco's How To Travel With A Salmon printed in French (naturally), whereas I had my own copy in my shoulder bag. I was tempted to buy the French copy so that I could try and read the two in tandem to help with my language skills. I clearly made the right decision in not buying it, I still haven't got round to reading the English edition to this day.

I remember arriving at my destination, a small holiday village, some 27 hours after the journey had begun. I had Emmental with French bread, followed by a slice of melon. Then we began drinking, and both the form and content of my recollections are far less ordered and significantly more chaotic than the ones I've recounted above.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

A golden moment

Just one of many. Expect me to bore you with more in the next few posts.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

A sobering coincidence

So there I was with a handful of friends last night, having retired to a pub for a quiet couple of pints so as to give our ears a rest from the punishing but compelling onslaught of a bewildering variety of sounds and noises. Oddly, the conversation turned - I don't quite remember how - to discussion about World War 1 (possibly because I very boringly seize any chance to discuss the war when I've had a few drinkies).

I recall talking about my admiration for Harry Patch's simple but cogent denunciations of armed conflict, and how much extra weight and authority it seemed to carry coming from someone - the last one alive - who had been there, seen so much horror and futility with his own eyes, and very luckily lived to tell the tale so many decades later.

So it was rather sobering to get home around 1am and to see the news headlines.

Saturday, 25 July 2009


Just got back from a fabulous (I know I've already used that word in the previous post) first evening of the music festival.

I'm just very, very pleased that, in the events programme, my name is there under the section headed "Special Thanks." I hadn't expected that.

Time for bed.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Right now what I am savouring and making the most of, with this weekend being spent at a festival of fabulous, challenging and downright out-there music (I've bought a fresh set of earplugs especially for the occasion); followed by a week well away from anything to do with work, and to be spent in glorious countryside in a remote, one-street village, with a nice pub just down the road.

The drinks and the pub food will, of course, be well-deserved after miles and miles of walking and/or cycling: that's the idea anyway.

It all starts right now - it's all ahead of me - as I write these words, and I intend to make the most of every single minute of it.

The rain has ceased, the sun is shining and it's a pleasant evening.

I should be relaxed more often: sometimes at least, it suits me.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

When the phone rings

...I get very nervous. When the phone rings at a relatively late hour, that is: let's say just after 10.30 pm.

I know that's hardly a rock n roll definition of late, but in terms of people phoning me, well it hardly ever happens. Not during the week.

So when it rang last night, the ringtone was like a panic button: who is it? What's gone wrong? Is somebody ill/had an accident/missing/dying/dead? Those kind of thoughts, all in an instant.

I picked the phone up and heard my mother's voice, and those italicised worries amplified themselves a little in my mind.

Mum: Ah - you're still up then.

I steeled myself as I replied in the affirmative (stating the reasonably obvious), whilst inwardly wondering what what wrong.

Mum (taking a deep breath): Right...

What was the name of the character in
The New Avengers, the one played by Gareth Hunt? I think it was just one word.

Me: *deep sigh* Gambit.

I wish she wouldn't put me through this: but then I ought to know by now that when the phone rings at a relatively late hour, my mum's been doing crosswords again.

Sunday, 19 July 2009


Whoever first developed the idea of mobile phones doubling up as portable music players should be sentenced to a punishment of being forced to travel on public transport for several hours a day, each day, until they can no longer endure it without screaming in terror or getting beaten up for having the temerity to go up to someone and suggest that if they don't turn the music down then they run the risk of having their mobile shoved down their throat.

I'd got on the train yesterday evening and managed to find a quietish spot in one of the carriages: it was one of "those" train journeys which seemed to be populated by blokes who'd downed substantially more than a couple of sips of lager and who were shouting and chanting about anything and everything. I presume there'd been some trouble too, since there were plenty of police ready and waiting on the platform as we were pulling into the station at the end of the journey.

Still, in my section of the carriage, we were shielded from most of the noise and whatever else might have been going on.

How annoying, then, that one of the three lads sat at the adjacent table decided to listen to some music on his phone. It was shrill and extremely irritating and I found myself getting wound up rather quickly. After a couple of minutes I spoke up.

Me: Whichever one of you is playing the music, do you mind turning it down please?

Lad: Why?

Me: Because I've got a headache, I'm really not in the mood for it and it's irritating.

Lad (indignantly): Why don't you go and sit somewhere else then?

Me: Look - I've not even asked you to turn it off, I've politely asked you to turn it down. Please.

Woman opposite me: I second that.

Lad (to his mates): oh, we might as well just turn it off.

Which they did.

Kids today, they've got no respect I thankfully didn't mutter, or even think of - but I did feel annoyed at just how primed for verbal confrontation some people seem to be. I sometimes feel frustrated at the times when I don't speak up in such situations, because of the risk of escalation or confrontation. It just doesn't seem worth it.

Still, the three lads were getting off at the same station as me and I wondered if they were going to come out with some smart comments or similar. The one I'd spoken with, however, waited and said after you, gesturing in front of him without any hint of sarcasm.

I said, no, it's ok, carry on, and let him past, feeling like it had actually been worth speaking up on this occasion.

Saturday, 18 July 2009


Is it just me or is that word vulgar and offensive?

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

On the edge

I was out walking for a couple of hours on a new route I've been taking, which finds me right on the edge of one side of town for long stretches.

There's an irresistible combination of bleakness and beauty, lots of juxtapositions which seem to enhance certain elements of one's surroundings rather than to drown them out.

The silence, when encountered, is both surprising and pleasantly eerie. A jolt after all the shouting voices, and the heavy bass sounds emanating from stereo systems secreted in tower blocks or passing cars.

The space is expansive - not despite, but because of the tower blocks, pylons and power lines which frame the skyline.

The last road, on the very border: towerblockaftertowerblockafterestatehousingaftertowerblockthentheroad
andthen.... grass, fields, the presence of a breeze as indicated by the fact that things such as trees are there to sway in it.

I love the sense of being on the edge of something, there's a certain allure or romance to it. The proximity of something different. The closeness of something often presumed distant. When walking through these places, my imagination similarly wanders, and I often wonder what it would be like to have witnessed or experienced places which, at certain times in recent history, were really and substantially on the edge or at intersections - whether geographically, politically or both.

Trieste, or maybe Vienna in the early post-war years. Or perhaps Vladivostok.

Then I remember I'm within a relatively short walking distance from home: perhaps just as well, I can easily imagine experiencing sheer information overload otherwise.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

What makes other people tic?

Me. I do. Make other people tic, that is.

Not in the way that Inspector Clouseau caused his superior, Chief Inspector Dreyfus, to fall prey to all manner of stress-induced tics: though I'll allow for the possibility that I might well have that effect on some people (no, don't all rush to disagree at once).

I'm sure that many of us, at least to an extent, create caricatures in our minds of certain people we know, by focusing on - and perhaps exaggerating - particular traits that form part of our perception of that person. Such caricatures might, I guess, be affectionate or a little cruel, just as an impressionist (not of the Manet variety) will be able to elicit sympathy or scorn for a person - all to comic effect - depending on what elements of a person's character and being they choose to amplify.

Well I don't know about anyone else, but I've somehow managed to find myself doing something substantially different to that. Up there in the darkest recesses of my mind there exists a grotesquely absurd menagerie of people I know, onto whom I've transposed a whole repertoire of surreal and often nonsensical movements, actions and speech.

None of these traits that my brain has imposed onto them bear any discernible relation to their real-life idiosyncracies. No, they seem instead to have a life of their own, and through this rather strange filter in my mind, each person is haplessly subject to these involuntary aberrations.

For example, we had a new colleague at work. For some reason, that person seemed out of place for a while, in my perception: there was something just not quite right. I assumed, as one reasonably might, that it was precisely because they were new: hence, they were still very much in the process of adjusting to their change in circumstances, just as me and my colleagues were making our own adjustments and accommodations accordingly (do excuse the alliteration).

But no, that wasn't it. At a certain juncture, I remember hearing a certain piece of music, and then in my mind's eye I pictured our new colleague doing a rather odd and frankly bizarre dance to it, all disconnected limbs, uncoordinated and quietly chaotic yet still in time to the music. The expression on their face was that of sheer concentration, interspersed with the occasional look of frantic bewilderment.

My first reaction was to laugh at this rather strange image that I'd conjured up, but this was followed by no small amount of horror, since this was the point at which I realised that said colleague now fitted in: I'd found a tic for them, and now they could take their place amongst all the others up there in the gallery, so to speak. It then occured to me just how extensive and developed that gallery is: people have been up there for a long time, their repertoire of externally imposed oddities remaining constant or gaining novel variations.

If you've ever heard Tension by Orbital, with its frantic and comic cutting up of Papa Oom Mow Mow, well: there's someone up there in my head who, despite themselves, can't help but constantly recite that absurd vocalisation. They've been doing it for a while.

(I shall not furnish you with any further examples: you get the idea by now, perhaps.)

Thankfully, it's not incessant, but there are certain triggers which bring such characters and their attendant tics into the forefront.

I wonder why I do this. My first thought was that it was to develop and maintain a level of irreverence for certain people (they're mostly people connected with work, after all: so any bloggers I've met who are reading this, it's ok - you're not up in the gallery) - it's difficult to take someone quite so seriously when you've recourse to the absurd images I've hinted at.

I still think there's something in this, but the whole thing has taken on such a life of its own that it's way beyond that. Plus it is, of course, entirely a reflection of the vagaries of my own thought patterns and processes, rather than mirroring any idiosyncracies of the people in question.

Maybe it's just absurdity for its own sake: I remember reading Spike Milligan's war memoirs, and one thing which stuck with me - because I found it bloody hilarious - was how, when he was getting increasingly into the entertainment division, he rewrote a play that had been put on for the forces. It was transformed from a serious drama into a surreal and slapstick mixture of chaos and pathos, and he managed to get several of the original actors to walk on stage throughout: they would start to recite their lines then burst into tears and wander off again in apparent confusion. I wonder if there's an analogy there at some level.

I've been meaning to write about this for ages, and hinted at it here, but I wonder if I've held back because of what anyone might think.

Sunday, 5 July 2009


I've been thinking a lot about the place recently. Despite the fact that I'm trying to put pennies aside to finally head across the pond, I do feel the urge to head back to Italy.

I'm sure it's a different place in many ways than when I was last there: and I'm in a different place in many ways too. Nevertheless, there are many resonances I presently feel aware of, which bring my time there to the forefront.

I'll just share a memory for now, one which begins some hours before I first set foot on Italian soil.

RM and I were heading there after a few days' stay in Geneva. We were at the train station waiting in a queue, a little groggy from a lot of alcohol the previous night, and getting increasingly anxious: the station was a large and confusing place, and time was ticking away steadily - as it tends to - making us worry that we were going to miss the train we wanted to catch. If we missed this train, then the next one wouldn't deliver us to Genoa until way too late in the evening. The journey was due to last several hours, including changing at Milan for the connection to our destination.

We had been moving along in the queue at a pace which inspired a certain level of confidence that we would just be able to make it - as long as we could find our way to the right platform without delay. However, as we reached just one place away from the ticket window, the chap in front of us seemed to be taking an extraordinarily long time going about buying his ticket. He was chatting away to the lady behind the counter, and it was with absolute fury that, when I listened in, I came to the conclusion that he was practicing his French language skills, making nothing more than small talk.

We had little time left. He continued waffling on to the lady behind the counter. RM and I were getting flustered.

I'm not religious, but I was in that place following a recent bereavement, in which one seems to suspend one's normal rules of engagement with the world, and to apprehend it in an altered way. Therefore, I lowered my head, closed my eyes and uttered a silent prayer that we would be able to get on the train and get safely to Genoa.

The bloody idiot in front of me was still enjoying the sound of his own voice. Oh well, that didn't work then.

At which point, I noticed that RM was now being ushered by a very kind person in the next queue along, into position in front of her, right up to the respective ticket window. Within moments we had tickets for Genoa in our hands, and a mad dash ensued which saw us get to the train platform in lightning speed. The brilliant sunshine dazzled us, reflected as it was on the surface of the platform. I paused only to shout to an attendant on the platform: C'est pour Milan? He nodded and waved us on.

Our relief turned to partial bemusement when, unbelievably, the dickhead who had held us up for so long in the queue, sauntered onto the train mere seconds later (at the precise point at which the train started to pull away and on the long journey to Milan) with his family in tow, still waffling on, though now in his native English. Words of pure tedium uttered forth in a seemingly interminable stream: fortunately he moved through to the next carriage with glum-faced family members trudging in his wake.

We soon forgot about him (though we continued to remark on the act of kindness by the person who let us into their queue) thanks to the astonishing journey through Alpine scenery, our arrival in Italy signified by a stop at the marvellously-named Domodossola: the scenery as we passed the great lakes of Northern Italy was just as breathtaking. By late evening we were sat on a forecourt atop a hill in Genoa drinking a well-deserved glass of beer. We watched the lights on the ships which were like beacons: they sailed languidly out of port and headed south, their silhouttes shimmering against the glorious evening haze.

We wondered whether they might be heading for Corsica, Sardinia or North Africa: it all seemed tantalizingly romantic and exotic.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Still life with wheel spokes, grazed elbow and knee

That's my elbow on the left, if you were wondering: it was difficult to get everything into one picture.

Thankfully only a mishap: I braked a little too late at a roundabout in a high gear. Typical really, I was two minutes from getting back home after an exhilarating hour or so in the countryside in torrential rain. The rain had now stopped, the road wasn't actually busy, but a split second of misjudgment saw me slide ever so gracefully (I use that term mendaciously) onto the tarmac.

Nothing more than superficial harm done though (except I'll have to have a look at the brakes), and I'd had an otherwise fantastic time. The sense of freedom of going out in such weather, combined with seeing the steam rise off the road like early morning mist, once the rains had given way to sunshine once more - I wouldn't have missed it for anything.

Friday, 26 June 2009

The potential for devastation

It was on my mind all day. Not necessarily at the forefront, but certain triggers would bring it right back into sharp, tense focus.

Waiting for news: not wanting to phone but wanting to know, being sure that the phone call would come eventually.

The sometimes unbearable bliss of ignorance in the meantime, and the occasional moment of actual forgetting.

The forgetting is the worst, I remember vividly the times when I would forget that my father was terminally ill: you can't hold these things in your mind all the time - not if you want to retain at least some sanity - yet I would feel bad upon realising that I had experienced moments, however brief or long, of having forgotten.

(How dare I forget?)

Today I was forcefully reminded just what a tapestry can form in one's mind during the waiting: a multitude of potential outcomes. Not daring to hope that things might be ok. Yet also being aware that what for me was still a potential outcome was already an actuality, albeit one I didn't know as yet.

I made sure I ate something as soon as I got home, just in case the news, when it came, might render my appetite redundant for the foreseeable future. I sat in the "now" of the moment, wondering whether this "now" might also come to form a significant sense of "before."

The phone rang.

My heart, oddly enough, didn't leap into my throat. I was calm.

So was my mother.

Things are ok, at least for now, thank goodness. The subtle yet palpable charge in these moments, that electricity, I wish I could harness it somehow, to use that energy to propel so many things forward and onward.

Yet it seems to me - rightly or wrongly - that such electricity is only generated in these painful, special moments of waiting.

The rain has eased, outside is calm too: I'm sat quietly in the half-light of the evening.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Good things

Thanks to having to take on some extra work of late, I've had little time to think properly. One might argue that when I have all the time in the world, my thinking is somewhat deficient, but that's beside the point.

I don't mind working hard and taking on a bit extra, but it becomes a problem when that work encroaches into my personal time and takes small but significant chunks out of my evenings and also my weekends. It's a bit demoralising too when there's no apparent end to all this extra stuff: no wonder there's been a faint whiff of mutiny in some quarters.

Anyway I was musing on all this mid-morning - it's interesting that recently my main thinking time has been whilst travelling and grabbing a little breathing space between work appointments - and I was feeling faintly resentful that, as a result, I've not been able to do much in recent weeks. No writing time, no making music time.

No *whisper* cycling time. I mean, come on! What's that all about?

It suddenly became apparent, as I decided to take an early lunch rather than head straight back to the office, just how distant I feel from considerations such as making music and the frame of mind which is intrinsically linked to such processes.

Bugger, I thought. Yes, if nothing else, I've retained my powers of articulation.

Oh well, I thought (continuing the already-established trend of cogent wordsmithery), as I finished my lunch and began my reluctant stroll back to the office.

As I walked, I bumped into an acquaintance. Let's call him Dave (name changed from Colin for the purpose of this blog, to protect his identity). We had a chat for a couple of minutes, just catching up, and then he mentioned he's organising a gig, aiming to get a few bands together for an event in the late summer. Would I be up for playing?

Sure, I don't see why fact yes, definitely.

Now that served to immediately cheer me up. We talked through a few details and he promised to send me some information, and then I carried on back to work feeling much lighter in mood. For one thing, it immediately reduced that sense of distance I mentioned above, and I found myself already thinking about what ideas I could develop, what existing ideas I could brush up or alter, and so on.

For another thing (and a far less important one) it means that, as long as it does go ahead, then I will have maintained an unbroken run of only playing when asked. I don't hold this as any kind of principle, it's merely that I came to the realisation that I've never actually requested to play a gig or event of any kind, I've always been asked by others. I just quite like it being that way. Well regardless, it's something new to focus on and look forward to.

When I got back to work, I found that many of the work issues which have been exercising me as mentioned above, have largely been resolved. Which didn't exactly do my mood any harm either. I needed not to extend my work commitments into this evening, for once.

Which therefore meant that I could get a decent bike ride in this evening, making the most of the beautiful weather and enjoying every moment out in the countryside. Perhaps a shame then, that my thought processes extended no further than to think of song titles and to change them to have cycling references in them.

The only one I'll mention though (because most of them are awful) is that old garage-punk classic, 96 Gears.

I know, it's not good is it?

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

A tenner for your thoughts

I was walking along through a shopping arcade today, inbetween work appointments and (hence) much that is annoying me.

When I saw it.

a £10 note (overseas readers should use the currency converter for a sense of the true import of this).

Glinting in the sunlight, diffuse as it was through the overhead decorative windows: sepia-toned (I'm not sure if that was the note itself or the dreamlike state I found myself in upon spotting said item), inviting me to reach down and pick it up.

I did, and immediately felt guilty.

Being honest/stupid (delete as appropriate), I walked up to the person twenty feet ahead of me and asked if he'd dropped any money.

Thankfully he was as honest/stupid as me, and said no, he hadn't. So I am £10 richer.

I know it's not the most exciting thing to blog about, but it's the best thing that's happened to me all day.

So far, anyway...