Sunday, 31 May 2009

Saturday, 30 May 2009

My bête noire/ Salvaging the weekend

My bête noire is something I've posted about before - the sheer drop. I was there again at High Tor today on a blisteringly hot afternoon, and got a little closer to the edge. I think I did anyway, I felt like I was daring without being cavalier. Some lads were nearby drinking beer and generally relaxing and looking blasé - I walked as close to the edge as it felt safe to do so, took the following footage, and stepped back.

I turned to them, and said, Would you believe I was shitting myself when I was stood there? - and they all said they'd gone no closer than I had, that it scared the hell out of them too.

It's not that I want to put myself in any danger, I just don't want to be limited by such fears. I wonder if the sense of the sheer drop is even hinted at in the footage I've posted?

The fact that I was working for a short while this morning, as mentioned in the previous post - and will be doing so again tomorrow - has, I think, worked in my favour in a way. I had a sense beforehand that this would be a wasted weekend, that I wouldn't feel able to do much or to unwind, since I knew I would be working both mornings and that everything would be anchored around that.

What I've done, actually, is aim to absolutely make the most of the weekend, to ensure that it is in no way defined by these little pockets of work that I'm doing. Thus, as soon as I finished my work this morning I was into town and on the train out of there, to go for a walk in beautiful countryside for a few hours, followed by meeting friends for food and drink later. Come tomorrow, following the morning's initial travails, I intend to keep myself similarly active: I already feel as though I've salvaged more than enough to make this weekend a most enjoyable one.

Friday, 29 May 2009


The week has been a blur. Last weekend was a lovely, relaxing one, and it was good to know that the working weekend ahead was a shorter one.

So how come a four-day week has felt twice as long? It's felt more like an epic bloody journey than a mere few hectic days too.

I'm doing a small amount of work Saturday and Sunday as well. Not much, and nothing taxing - but just enough to stop me from being able to fully unwind.


Sunday, 24 May 2009

Goodbye, boots

I bought them ten years ago for roughly £80: money well spent (when I bought them, the shopkeeper said that's roughly £80, please - so I gave him £80 roughly).

Anyway. The first walk in them was in the Lake District in 1999 and lasted 8 or 9 hours (unlike 1999 itself which lasted 365 days, both in the Lake District and elsewhere), and I gained not a single blister.

Since then they've been on my feet when walking in many parts of the Lake District (including the hair-raising Striding Edge), the Yorkshire Dales, the Peak District, the Highlands of Scotland, Mull, Arthur's Seat, the Alps and many more places besides. They've been totally reliable for all this time and all those miles I've walked, but finally the soles went, and that and the other wear and tear on them meant it was time.

They've had their last walk (which I believe was my most recent toddle around parts of the Peak District with Fire Byrd), and sadly it's time for them to go. Call me ridiculously sentimental, but it's like saying goodbye to an old friend.

I almost felt a certain guilt when buying myself a new pair yesterday.

Friday, 22 May 2009

In passing

I've just been to the local pub and spent an evening watching musical acts from the western Sahara and from Syria: it's been unique, fantastic and oddly dislocating: but the main thing is it's been utterly enjoyable and celebratory. Memorably so.

It still confounds me that my local pub - literally 5 minutes walk from where I live - is becoming such an established venue on so many levels: including the more out-there levels that I'm likely to respond to. Not that, as you might imagine, I'm complaining.

I'm away til the end of the weekend, hope you have a good one too.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

2 today

I came to the realisation when I was on the bus this morning that it's two years ago today that I started this blog. I tend to have many odd moments of realisation on the bus mind you, but this one felt like it was worth a mention at least.

Two years, indeed, since I wrote my first post here. It was a Saturday and I think I was ever so slightly hungover, about to get dressed to the nines for a wedding.

Sometimes I'm surprised I'm still blogging - at least under the same pseudonym - other times I can't imagine much time passing without getting drawn back into it. Therefore I'm not going to come out with a statement along the lines of I'm still blogging against all odds - more like, against some odds.

I'm still here anyway.

It feels a much quieter place round these parts of late, other people move onwards, sidewards and sometimes off the radar seemingly altogether, for all sorts of reasons. Various gadgets (the Followers facility for example) make it necessary no longer to pop over to others' sites to see if they've written a new post - it's all up there on the dashboard. As with certain others I follow who have done so, I sometimes wonder about disabling such facilities.

Useful as they (and stats and so on) are, they can also serve as a distraction, a numbers game, which is completely beside the point of why I continue to blog.

None of which is voiced as a complaint or a pointed comment of any kind - I'm happy to get as many or as few visitors as I get - just an observation (after all, there are blogs I used to frequent, and now visit rarely if ever). There are, all the same, some visitors who have been a constant more or less from the start.

You're all welcome, should you be reading this.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Why does the rain

On Friday, just after work, I took a couple of colleagues up on their invitation to go for a couple of drinks before heading home.

Half an hour and I'll be there I told them, as I had a few things to tidy up and file away (more in a mental sense than a literal one).

I knew which pub they were in, it was just a few minutes walk away. When I arrived there I could see no sign of them either in the main bar or the back room. My colleagues both being smokers, I bought myself a pint anyway, making the presumption that they'd be having a cigarette out the back somewhere.

The barwoman had asked if I was looking for someone. A man and a woman I'd informed her, narrowing the odds down considerably (well it wasn't the busiest pub in the world). She pointed out how to get into the garden - round the back of the bar, turn left then right.

I got out there, pint in hand, and found a little enclosed area, verdant and charming - to the right was an awning with seats and space for a barbecue. To the left was a small enclosure with a little, open door - inside my two colleagues were sat on comfortable armchairs on a carpeted floor. It was a quirky, intimate space full of ornaments, a footstool and a solid old wooden table. As I sank into my all-too-inviting seat, I noted that the wall behind me was made of brick - it was part of the outside wall of the pub, backing onto the garden - whereas the remaining walls were wooden. It was like a garden or allotment shed which had been customised for maximum luxury within the means available.

It had the feel of a secret den, a cosy, homely little corner tucked away from the rest of the world. The roof was made of clear, corrugated plastic - so the space was light and airy too rather than dark and dingy.

I couldn't help but talk about what it reminded me of - one of my fondest memories, that of sitting in the greenhouse as a child (usually keeping one or more of the cats company, sprawled out on the trestle or the soil), especially at the onset of a heavy rain or thunder storm.

That feeling - as with being under canvas also - of being simultaneously exposed to the elements, and yet of being very comfortably insulated from them too. To be able to smell and feel the change in atmosphere as the storm hit, to be thrillingly close to it, but to remain warm, dry and comfortable. Only the cats would display any consternation, annoyed that the weather would be so rude as to disturb their sleep.

The sound of heavy raindrops hitting the glass of the greenhouse roof, just above one's head. And knowing that if the rain got so heavy, there would be little choice but to stay put until it had significantly eased off. I still recall the smell of the tomato plants, the paraffin heater, the bags of compost under the trestles.

Well my colleagues and I talked about all this, and then got on to talking about more contemporary topics, setting the world to rights and all that. I could see that it would be dangerously easy to stay here for hours, to settle in for the evening, had I not other plans.

Then, all of a sudden, the heavens opened and we had the heaviest, harshest showers of the year so far, huge drops of rain hitting the corrugated roof with such force and intensity that I couldn't hear the conversation any more. Rather than shout above it, we largely just opted to sit back in our huge armchairs and just listen, talking only when there was a momentarily lull.

It was fantastic. The sheer din just accentuated our cosiness. Then there was a flash of lightning, and a huge clap of thunder followed. Perfect! I hadn't intended to stop for long, but here I had no choice if I didn't want to get soaked through to the skin. In fact the colleague who was brave enough to get another drink during all this got a good soaking as she dashed between the exit of our den and the back door to the pub, a mere 20 feet away.

The lovely smell of the garden wafted through, fresh and refreshing. I just wished there was a paraffin lamp to light. The incessant rain impacting on the corrugated plastic a few feet above our heads continued for a good hour or so, and we three were pretty much enveloped and pleasantly stranded for that time. We managed conversation by leaning forward out of our armchairs and shouting above the din when it was at its heaviest.

Much of the time I was just happy to sit back and just drink in the atmosphere: to enjoy the moment and its powerful evocation of all those other memories, but this time with added beer. I got home an hour or so later than I'd planned, but I wouldn't have missed that for anything.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Re: play

So - as alluded to and mentioned and everything else and none of the above in the last couple of posts, me and my namesake (who I shall henceforth refer to as troUSers once more, thanks to djkirkby reminding me that this was his moniker on these pages) played another gig at the end of last week.

It was another really good, lovely evening.

There are, before I go on, a couple of very minor howevers to get out of the way:

It felt like less of an event than last time, for a number of reasons - the principal one being that we've done it before, and I can't imagine being able to replicate the novelty and the weirdness of that first time that we shared a stage and collaborated on each other's music.

It was also less well-attended than the last one, we seem to have picked a Friday night on which so many other events were happening both locally and further afield.


There was definitely more than enough of an audience to recreate the same kind of atmosphere that we had last time: relaxed, warm, quite celebratory. In fact, listening back to a few recordings that a friend made, the audience is pretty loud and raucously enthusiastic.

I think I was a little more nervous about the music I was playing than last time - I hadn't had much opportunity to run my ideas past other people in the run up to the gig and, while I'm confident about my ideas in many respects, it usually takes a bit of feedback to help me feel ok about the execution of them. I was happy though that I didn't replicate any of the stuff that I played last year, it was all new except for something from a few years ago that I'd heavily reworked.

It does seem as though I follow a structure whenever I get half an hour's worth of music together to perform, though not on purpose: it's just how it seems to work out. This time was no exception, beginning with one very long opening piece (in this case about 15 minutes), and three or four shorter ones. And, as with last year, a final track in collaboration with troUSers.

Most of my stuff is laptop-based, though ensuring that there's enough about it which remains "live" - but the final track I played was just me on guitar with troUSers singing. What I love about this - apart from being an accompanist to his incredible voice - is that there is someone there to respond to, something which accentuates the live and spontaneous elements.

So on the second or third verse when he started shifting things up a gear vocally, I immediately responded in kind, and got absolutely lost in the interaction between his singing and my guitar playing. Listening to vocal cues and watching him as he sang for further indications of where we were going, and absolutely losing any self-consciousness in terms of being in front of an audience - until we brought the song to a close and got the sort of response that I mentioned a couple of paragraphs up.

His own songs really gain their dynamism from such interactions, but mainly between him and the audience. They're excellent songs anyway (and I say this as someone who can take or leave songs as a musical form), but watching troUSers in the soundcheck and watching him before an audience is seeing the difference between a perfectly decent run-through of finely-crafted melody and notes, and of something which is elastic and charged with energy, full of pivotal moments in which he will push a song in any given direction depending on the feeling in the room at that precise point.

His set was fantastic, both for the songs and for the incredible delivery.

He also invited me and a further musical friend and collaborator back onstage for a final song, again subject to the kind of potentiality described as above. I remember being alongside them both and remaining attuned to the ebb and flow of music and mood, and getting a good reception yet again.

I only remember this last one vaguely though, for my one regret about the night is that my tolerance to alcohol was not what it usually is: unlike the title of the previous post, I was certainly not undrunk.

Sunday, 10 May 2009


I stayed in last night, had a quiet evening to myself without a drop to drink.
Here are just some of the beers that didn't pass my lips:

There are, of course, many more drinks that I didn't have last night (including gin and tonic, for example), but it would be a pointless exercise to list or show photographs of them all.

Anyway, I feel good and rested now.

I'd been on a big shopping binge on Wednesday and Thursday - including said bottles of beer - in anticipation of the arrival of my namesake and another guest. I wasn't entirely sure when the former was due to arrive, and I hadn't heard from him Thursday night. Which was fine, though I did have a dream in the early hours of Friday morning. In the dream he rang me up and said how much he was looking forward to us playing another gig on Saturday night, and that he'd be over early Saturday in plenty of time.

I woke up with a shudder and thoughts of no, NO, he's got the days mixed up! Help!!!. I got up, switched on my computer, and there was an email from him - he'd be arriving late Friday morning. I dashed off a quick reply, relaxed and began to enjoy the fact that I'd got the day off work.

Now I didn't post any details up here of the fact that we were playing on Friday night, principally because anonymity is one of the key factors in enabling me to blog: it has its advantages but at times like this it also serves as a mild frustration.

Nevertheless, I'm not about to change that.

I'll talk about the gig itself in a subsequent post I think. When we did this kind of event last year, I was very much on the periphery of it all in terms of organising the whole thing - it was enough for me personally just to get enough material (and sufficient confidence in myself) together to get up and play. So it feels good to record that this year, I forced myself into the uncomfortable (for me) position of doing far more in terms of planning and liaising with the venue, the sound man and everyone else involved.

I hope that means that I'm more empowered to do such things on my own.

I also want to record again just how wonderfully odd it is to have a namesake from the other side of the world who is incredibly talented - and is one of the warmest, most personable individuals I'm lucky enough to be able to count as a friend.

Friday afternoon, as we were catching up with each other and making preparations for the evening's events, it was just delightful to sit and talk ideas and to have such a level of mutual understanding regardless of our different approaches towards creativity. For him to play a recording to me of something he's been working on, a piece which is just astonishing. For me to play him some of the music I was going to perform that night, and to see him shaking his head with a wide grin.

A sure-fire burst of enthusiasm, warmth and inspiration.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Play again

My namesake is on these shores and should be over this way tomorrow: more musical events are afoot. I'm pressed for time but will report further (I've got a meme to do at some point as well).

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Keep out of reach of citizens (Misreading the signs 6)

Yes, citizens was actually children, and was on a shampoo bottle: something I actually use these days.

But: the above, and an article today, reminded me of a conversation my grandfather had with a younger me (I don't recall how young, but certainly in single figures).

It was in relation to something that was on the tv, the radio, or maybe a newspaper headline.

Says my grandad: They're all the same these bloody politicians. Bloody liars the lot of 'em, doesn't matter which party. Don't trust any of 'em.

Though I wouldn't have thought about it in such terms, I can remember my feeling being that surely he was too cynical, that there was some difference, something that one could trust based on what a person was standing for, on their given political persuasion. I don't remember what dialogue we had as a result of his pronouncement, though I do recall that we did talk about it.

He must have been in his seventh decade as we had this conversation, I think I may have had a vague sense (unless I've supplanted this in retrospect) that I hoped I wouldn't be so cynical when (if) I reached his age.

I haven't quite reached my fifth decade yet, and I wonder if my cynicism doesn't far exceed his already.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Easy to spot

I've been using Spotify lately, for listening to music online. It's not dissimilar on the face of it to iTunes, except that you don't (as yet, at least) download any music, it's just there and accessible to listen to online. So as long as your internet connection is active, you can listen to the music as readily as if it were your own copy.

I enjoy it, I've found it a good way to catch up with stuff I've not heard for years (there's a conspicuous amount of "alternative" stuff from the early-mid 80s on my playlist) and also to listen to new music or to albums which I've never heard but always meant to listen to at some point.

For instance, last night and today I've been listening to a couple of albums by Bong Ra, which has inspired me to order a copy of his most recent disc. I'd still rather physically own such things rather than as a download or just having streaming access to it online, and I've never had a problem with paying for it.

So it's all good stuff, an ideal and free (the "cost," unless you pay a monthly subscription, is to put up with hearing a couple of adverts every 30 mins or so) way of listening.

When I first signed up, I found myself searching for all sorts of tracks I'd not heard, in some cases, for 20-25 years or longer, and it was fantastic. Ok, how about The Bushes Scream While My Daddy Prunes by The Very Things? Yep, that's there - and straight onto my playlist. Truck Train Tractor by The Pastels? Check. White Punks On Dope? Check. Bananarama's version of Nathan Jones? No I'm not being ironic, I genuinely love their version.

Song From The Bottom Of A Well by Kevin Ayers? Oh yes.

And so on and so forth.

But then I had to stop listening to them. It had been all too easy, there's something which feels a little vulgar about the lack of effort in tracking down the above, along with a whole heap of others: some obscure, some not so obscure. There remains a wealth of music which is still not available on there and perhaps never will be, but still there's been a sense of the kind of instant gratification which is increasingly prevalent.

I could start waxing nostalgic about record shops, the best ones being veritable Aladdin's Caves, but I've already done that. But reading an interview with Keith Richards the other day, in particular the part where he describes searching for hard-to-get blues records - swapping and borrowing, building a record collection and all the rest - it seemed to underline why the ease of access I'm describing seems to carry with it a sense of disappointment or dissatisfaction for me.

It may be just the sense of placing more value in something that one has invested a lot of time and effort (and money) in searching after. The feeling of having a prized artefact. Maybe I'm a little too precious about it, but after the initial delight of rediscovering so many long-lost tunes, I'm left with a sense of - well, I've done that, what do I do now?