Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Misreading the signs

As I left the pub after a rather lovely Boxing Day Carvery, here's what I misread on the exit door:

Thanks for nothing!

It took a moment to realise that it actually said, "Thanks for calling!"

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Today I want to hold a black cat

For some reason the shift keys have decided not to work. no idea why, but sod the idea of pressing 'caps lock' every time i want a capital letter. so i will have to remain resolutely lower-case for the sake of this post. a post - from me - what a novelty.. i can't even use parentheses or exclamation marks, which the last couple of sentences would clearly have benefited from.

anyway, all day i've had this feeling that i want to hold a black cat. i had a dream last night. nothing different to any given night over the last few weeks, in that respect - most nights have been punctuated by extremely vivid dreams - sometimes genuinely entertaining/intriguing, other times unsettling/disquieting, often a mixture of all three. or four.

well last night's dream saw me at the top of a very high tower, with a close friend and his family. we were on a little circular balcony which went around the top of the tower, with railings and lots of gaps in the ironwork to see the vast distance to the ground below. the other people all seemed comfortable and relaxed, whereas i felt rather precarious and nervous. with me was a black cat which was exploring, and i was terrified - as unconcerned as it appeared to be - that it was going to lose its footing - or pawing - and fall.

the dream has stayed with me all day, as has this feeling of wanting to hold a black cat - to comfort it, or more likely to comfort myself.

that's without even mentioning the later part of the dream where i was safe on the ground and had gone for a meal in a lovely pub/restaurant, but the toilets were in full view of everyone. they consisted of a seat with a hole in it, underneath which hung an empty plant pot. i decided i ought to complain.

Saturday, 8 October 2011


I've been a busy bee today, but here was a strange interlude a little earlier on..

I was out on the high street, drawing my life savings out of the nearest ATM so that I could afford a coffee before hyperinflation really kicks in (including emergency savings so that I could afford a shot of vanilla with it), when suddenly I heard what sounded like an expression of absolute glee.


I turned round, eyebrow raised, to see a little old lady walking past. Must have been her, I thought, there was no-one else nearby. She eyed me with a look of vague melancholy, and I turned back to stuff my wallet with the increasingly-devalued paper money spewing its way out of the ATM.

Hang on, I thought? WTF? Why would an old lady be whooping for joy like that? I wondered if I'd imagined it, when suddenly -


I spun round to see the same old lady walking a little further past, but still close enough for her to have caught my reaction. She looked at me with that same hint of melancholy, stopped, fished a handkerchief out of her pocket and blew her nose.

I was wondering whether I should tell her she had the most joyful, life-affirming sneeze I had ever heard. I thought better of it though, for fear of it sounding a little weird.

She shuffled on, and I went for my barely-affordable coffee.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Brilliant Bonkers

I love this. I wish I could dance like that.

Actually, after a few drinks, I often can.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011


I know the last few posts I've done have been pretty minimal: this one will be no exception, at least in terms of the word count. I'm tired tonight but I've forced myself to be busy working on musical things. During a few online searches to find some particular source material to play around with (my search terms being choirs/drones), I came across this, and was - am - stunned.

Haunting and beautiful in abundance, and I'm glad I've packed up my work for the night, since this has left me utterly floored.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The day I went to the death camps

I've written here, at some point, about the amount of books and related material that I've read, or watched, about the two world wars. My thirst for knowledge about it was based on, on the one hand, the need for historical perspective: to be able to have a sense of what informed the flow of events and how these have shaped the subsequent decades upon which they still have a huge impact.

On the other hand there has been, in my mind, a need to find some kind of insight, or attempt to come to terms with on some level, the sheer impact on human lives at an individual and collective level that those wars brought.

What this has meant, during those extended periods of reading and viewing, is a lot of exposure to material which is heartrending, depressing, bleak, unfathomable, yet also inspiring and humbling. All this, of course, in the vulgar comfort of my armchair.

Quite what it says about me that I've kept a corner of my mind open to information about such extremes of existence, I'm not sure - but there's a desire in there to try to comprehend or at least apprehend such suffering and adversity. I know that part of it is informed by the sheer proximity of such great and terrible events to my own lifetime: WWII ended a mere twenty-five years before I was born. Long enough to render me at a safe distance from it, but otherwise a mere blink of an eyelid, and still very much shaping the world I was born and brought up in.

It's too neat to suggest that this inward flow of words and images served as preparation for my visit earlier this week to Auschwitz: that wasn't my intention, though in retrospect it did have that effect. But it's a largely separate set of circumstances (not of particular relevance here) that enabled myself and a couple of friends to go there a few days ago.

Reflecting on all this, I'm not quite sure what I can meaningfully say about the experience, yet I do feel the need to express it somehow. There's the ever-present chance that I could write an extended, convoluted post which could be summed up as I really don't have the words. Also, an account based on my own subjective experience feels like it would be indulgent: yet should I try to open it up into more large-scale observations then I think I would fall flat on my face.

Perhaps my own subjective experience, indulgent as it may be, will be the only way I can express anything at the present time. Right now though I feel the need to go out and get a temporary change of scenery.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Misreading the signs

As I was on one of my many bike rides this week, I spotted:

Sale By Public Unction

Perchance I still had The Devils Of Loudon at the back of my mind..

Saturday, 16 July 2011


Having finished one book (as reviewed extensively in the previous post) I'm now reaching the end of another - the middle one in the picture, Huxley's The Devils of Loudon. Following Like Bees To Honey I was eager to continue reading, particularly while my mindset feels attuned to such things.

In that respect, embarking on The Devils of Loudon was an unexpectedly good choice. I say "unexpectedly" because his prose in this book seems much more dense than in his novels. One lengthy chapter in which he expounds some of the philosophical theory underlying his approach to the historical events that the book focuses on, I found almost impenetrable. I suspect that a second reading at some point would remedy this - but, given my currently-revived enthusiasm for reading books, I persevered and am now reaping the rewards of having done so.

It feels like the initial third or so of the book is an extended exercise in scene-setting, and at times it seemed excessive - but, as I reach the final couple of chapters, the detail given to 17th-century social conditions and the interface between that and religion (not least heresy), medicine, applied reason, law et al more than warrants its inclusion. What at times was an effort to plough through, ends up being a rather rich slab of thorough context which has helped me to more fully appreciate what is a series of gripping and rather horrific events.

I'm not about to embark on another review here, I mainly wanted just to set down a marker, as it were. After this, another sideways step: I'm greatly looking forward to reading Keef's autobiography, I picked it up yesterday for a mere £5.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Like Bees To Honey: an overdue and very rambling review

(The review is in black type below, scroll down to avoid the rambling intro. REVIEW CONTAINS A SPOILER)

Around May 2010 or thereabouts, I began to read Like Bees To Honey by Caroline Smailes.

About 150 pages in (ok, to be precise, 162 pages in: the bookmark, a ticket for a gig by The Fall from the same month, was still there this week) I had to stop reading the book.

Not that I wanted to stop. It was just that in the glorious, sunny days in which I'd begun to read it, some seriously challenging events suddenly came my way and took up much time and energy, and were to continue to do so for some time. On the one hand this meant that I didn't have the concentration levels to adequately do justice to an activity such as reading a book. On the other hand, I didn't want to sully the book in question with the memory of the rather difficult circumstances in which I would have read it.

So I stopped, and apart from a different novel which I read late last year (and which I knew I'd get through quickly), I haven't read any fiction since. I decided that I'd start reading again whenever it felt right to do so.

In the meantime, Like Bees To Honey has been with me on at least two trips to Poland, two camping holidays in Wales, and several expeditions around the UK - just in case I felt the urge to read again.

Finally, this week, I opened its pages once more and, from the beginning (as opposed to page 162) I read it. It feels like now was definitely the right time to have done so.

Whether due to my age or certain life circumstances, I've been experiencing an acute sense of nostalgia in recent months. Nostalgia feels like a double-edged sword, there to be noted, understood, yet viewed with suspicion, not to be wallowed in. As mentioned previously, for me it is best summed up by the phrase

A vehement desire to return home.

If home, however, is not just in a different place but also in a different time (in my case, the 1970s/80s) then returning is an impossibility. To go back to that physical place now is a reminder that things have changed: progress and decay have simultaneously impacted on buildings, people, things in general. Static memories are placed in tension against the dynamic changes that everyday life brings as time inevitably passes.

I mention this because such questions of home, and more specifically of belonging, are central to Like Bees To Honey. So I'll stop rambling on about myself now, and talk about the book:

Caroline's previous novels, In Search Of Adam and Black Boxes were as dark and bleak as they were compelling. The main protagonists in each were defined by dysfunction, desperation and all-too-human frailty, the narratives weaving them together were often unflinchingly brutal, yet never less than readable - rather than be repelled, there was enough about these characters to sympathise with, to want everything to be alright for them.

Like Bees To Honey is much gentler by comparison. For the most part, bleakness is replaced by beauty, at least in terms of the main setting of the story, the island of Malta. Something it has in common with the two previous novels, however, is its deft and intimate portrayals of people, who are as convincingly flesh-and-blood as I've read on the printed page. Even the spirits of dead ones, and there are plenty of those in the book.

So it is with the main (and very much living) character, Nina, who is checking in at Manchester airport at the very beginning of the novel: a mess of snot and tears as she sobs uncontrollably, having made the decision to leave her husband and daughter and fly back to her homeland. The insight into the apparent logic behind her less-than-rational behaviour at the airport is balanced against the awkward stares and reactions of other passengers. Throughout the book, there is the sometimes uncomfortable feeling of being able to identify with such a character despite simultaneously knowing how she would be viewed by outside observers.

Then again, it's notable how quickly I got used to the idea of her dead son drinking in a bar in Malta with Jesus (Malta, it transpires, is a haven for the spirits of the dead). Though the central themes of the book are very weighty - and I'll come to those in a minute - they are counterbalanced by some very playful narrative devices: at times strange and slightly dark, but cleverly interwoven and making this a very rich read.

The main thrust of the story is that Nina is returning to her homeland of Malta to try and make amends with her parents: having left the island to study in England, she had a baby out of wedlock and was disowned by her family. Her son is killed in a car crash aged 10, and she feels that this is retribution for her actions . Her return to the island is an attempt to resolve the resulting feelings of regret, loss, guilt and displacement, a perhaps-forlorn hope that everything will be alright if she goes back home.

Many elements combine to make the story come alive, the aforementioned playfulness being one of them. The spirits which Nina can see are wryly handled, and avoid the huge potential for cliche. A beer-drinking, nail-polish-wearing Jesus and a restless, lesbian Geordie house ghost help see to that.

Similarly, the descriptions of Malta are seductive and alluring, yet they never fall into the trap of reading like an extended tourist brochure. They are given depth by the fact that they are being seen through the eyes of someone full of conflict and the uncertainty of their status: a returning native or, indeed, a tourist. The perceived comfort of returning home is balanced against idealised memories being shattered.

The themes of life and death, love and loss are handled in a multilayered way, too: again, without the more violent imagery of earlier novels, but with a similar level of emotional rawness that had a real impact on me. Grief arising from separation and dislocation is given as much weight as the grief from the death of a loved one: nonetheless, one of the more traditional depictions of grief - a deathbed scene - was almost too close for comfort for me.

Questions around identity and belonging - one's internal life and how this interacts with a more external cultural identity - are woven into the fabric of the book from start to finish. Time passes, traditions alter subtly, sometimes not-so-subtly. Culture and religion intermingle with superstition. One of the many things which really stayed with me was the description of the Maltese church which had a bomb dropped on it during the war (the dome of the church was damaged but the bomb didn't explode). An interesting story in its own right, it serves as a metaphor for the dynamic, changing nature of things - and how we change our relationship with them as a result.

Big themes notwithstanding, this was not a difficult book to read: in many ways a complex book, but never at the expense of readability. At times wonderfully odd, funny, poignant, heartwrenching, it was never less than a delight.

Oh and I had to wipe the tears from my eyes more than once while I was reading the last few chapters in a cafe yesterday.

Oh and I want to go to Malta.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

A few notes, before I post a book review

A friend of mine posted the following recently: Nostalgia: a vehement desire to return home.

I don't know whether they were my friend's own words, or quoted from elsewhere. But, my word, they really hit home - straight away, before I even had the chance to think about them. Properly floored me, because they resonated.

I've always been cynical of at least one strand of nostalgia: the "let's take you back to the 80s" (or 70s/60s etc) variety: the sort that suggests a hermetically-sealed and idealised form of fashion, music, politics, lifestyle. Karaoke nostalgia, as exemplified, say, in the tribute artists who do the rounds playing 80s (or 70s/60s etc) pop in bars across the country.

The kind of thing which debases, to my mind, the very personal and profound nostalgia suggested by the quote at the top of this post. Karaoke nostalgia? Maybe the word karaoke should be subsituted by the word commodified.

Separately - years ago - I remember reading the words of an artist (I don't remember which) talking about photography. He said that photographs are a reminder of death. I found it hard at first to understand his reasoning: after all, photographs can capture the most vibrant and lively moments. His point was that, in capturing a moment, a photograph denotes exactly that: it frames but a fleeting glimpse, a split second in time, gone forever at the point of its rendering. To revisit it - to look at the photograph - is to witness something which is frozen in time, in the increasingly-distant past.

I think the only reason that second point took longer to hit home, was my age at the time. I could be wrong.

But, in terms of the narrative that I may put on to my own existence, there is no contradiction whatsoever between the two points mentioned above.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

76 pt 2 (final return)

A few months ago I posted about the first ever band that I was in - consisting of me, my brother and my grandad - and the concerts (to use the term at its loosest) that we used to perform on Saturday afternoons at the top of the stairs in my grandparents' house. (I hope I've got the apostrophe in the right place there.)

Fun and silliness in abundance was what I remember.

My grandad is long gone, over a decade and a half ago (he would be 100 were he still alive), and the house has been uninhabited for just over 18 months, since my grandmother was hospitalised. She's still around, but the level of care that she needs means that she could never return to that house. I fear, too, that it would unsettle her: somehow, I think, in her addled mind, she has reached some kind of uneasy truce with her present surroundings. Comfortable, but not home: never home.

Nor had I been in the house since she was taken to hospital. No reason to, for one thing, and in my mind I now pictured it as an empty shell. I thought little about the residue of memories, the ghosts that might lie in wait there should I turn the key, open the door and walk in.

It was put up for sale not so long ago. My mother has been there regularly to check for mail and to keep an eye on things which may need attention. On visiting my mother one weekend, I found myself accompanying her on the short walk up to this empty house to check on a faulty kitchen tap and to see if there was anything I could do to remedy it. There had already been a steady trickle (pun intended) of potential buyers for the property in the weeks leading up to this point.

Kitchen tap repaired (no I don't have any plumbing skills, it wasn't such a technical task), it occurred to me that this would surely be the last time I would ever set foot in the house. I didn't have much time since I would be heading to the station fairly shortly, so I asked my mother to wait just a moment before we left.

I'm glad I had no time to linger, actually, no time to indulge in sentimentality there and then. I was glad just to have a most perfunctory final wander around this house with my mind very much on the present. But I had to stop at the top of the stairs for just one moment longer, and to feel some quiet satisfaction that I was at the exact co-ordinates of the memory described in the post I linked to. Here's where it happened. Three and a half decades ago.


Back down the stairs, back to my mother's, and then off to the station.

The house was sold the following day. I'm glad for that last little opportunity to return.

Sunday, 22 May 2011


This here blog turned 4, a few days ago.

Happy Birthday blog. I'm really limping along with it at the moment, though, and perhaps need to decide what to do.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

All I have

This last week could be divided into two distinct halves. We could start by calling them the "nice" half and the "any number of descriptive words which are the binary opposite of nice" half.

I'm grateful, at any rate, that there is such a distinction to be drawn, and that it hasn't all fallen into the latter category.

Work, anyway, has been stupid, stressy and miserable. The balance is such that, although I'm trying to address such issues, I'm now feeling that the answers no longer lie within the organisation. The more I meet with senior figures to sort things out, the more I feel like a turkey asking a chef to help resolve matters.

Onto the nice half of the week: despite feeling like my energy and motivation has really been sapped, I've spent significant portions of each evening working on music. After a fairly humdrum couple of sessions early on in the week, I've been progressively feeling like the drive and the momentum have returned, and that I'm beginning to turn a corner. The different ideas I've been working on have all felt rather disparate and scattershot - and that's been a purposeful thing - but now I seem to be reaching a point in which they're starting to reveal a common thread in some ways, and that's rather exciting.

Nice also to want to get home and get stuck into working on such things, rather than the times when I feel myself putting up barriers to any engagement with creative processes. Plus it's good to be at a stage where I can get into specifics: this particular track needs this to be done to it.

I can't afford to make excuses for not engaging with it any more, because really it feels like it's all I have.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Disparate thoughts in different colours

So I got back to my music last night, after a frustrating period of inactivity (well - not entirely frustrating. Thanks to the nice weather I have many more bike rides under my belt).

I worked on a new idea, revisited an old one, and tinkered around with a couple of fairly recent ones.

They all sounded shit.

This is a good thing, since it serves to compel me to make them stop sounding shit. Also since it makes me less precious about all the work I have in progress. Perhaps a few weeks away from the stuff hasn't been a bad thing, but it feels imperative to regain a sense of compulsion (which happens to consist of a large amount of enjoyment) and push the whole thing forward again with the kind of momentum I was previously feeling.

I may have a couple of gigs coming up in the near future - nothing definite yet, but confirmation would certainly up the ante.

Tomorrow I exercise my democratic right, for what it's worth: local elections.

I hope the weather is good. Somehow it feels right to go along and vote on a beautiful, sunny Thursday evening. Voting is one of those few things which makes me feel like a grown-up. I wonder if this is true for anyone else who I see when I go to vote. I like the sense of purpose I have when I stroll down to the polling station.

I'll let you know if I spoil the ballot paper or write none of the above across it.

One post I never wrote last year was to mention my favourite lp of 2010. This just occurred to me as I was listening to it a little earlier. It's called Latin, and is by Holy Fuck.
It's one of those few lps which can make me feel like shouting COME ONNNNNNNN and dance and jump about and whatever else, which is no mean feat.

Oh and I will visit other blogs soon, I promise.

Monday, 2 May 2011


My neighbour, like clockwork, leaves the house at 6.30am and gets back home at 8.15pm. You could set your clock, such is the steady reliability.

Today, he left at 6.44am and returned at 8.29pm.

Maybe it's just because it's the Bank Holiday, maybe because he slipped a little, I don't know. When things are so routine, you notice the difference.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Whining and dining

I've been neglecting my poor blog, haven't I?

It's just that my attention has been elsewhere and, as I mentioned in a comment on my last post, things have been a little out of balance. Nothing life-shattering or dramatic, just a little trying and draining. Witness the fact that I have to go off and do some work today and Monday just as I did on the bank holiday last weekend.

I know that a large amount of people will have to work over all the weekend, and put in far more hours than me; that such is hardly a violation of my human rights or tantamount to being thrown into a pit or a dungeon and made to eat pins while everybody else parties: it's just a little tiring when I feel that I'm denied a certain amount of respite that I could really benefit from, especially in my line of work.

Ho hum.

The other thing is that, since we've had decent weather for most of this month, I've spent as much time as possible (when you factor in the amount of energy I've had available) out on the bike, out into the rural areas. I bumped into some friends yesterday who described me as looking jaded: I said that I think a bike ride is in order, so as to de-jade me.

You know what? It worked.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Soothe sayings.

I've taken advantage of the fine weather this week. Two bike rides in as many evenings, which have been very cathartic and necessary, as well as enjoyable in their own right.

10 minutes and I'm out of the city, a further 15 minutes and it's positively quiet and rural.

Thanks to the warmth remaining well into the evening, I'm aiming to squeeze every last beneficial drop out of the good weather today. Apart from popping back in here to post this, I'm sat on the yard and soaking up the calm and the outside air, watching the sky change from evening hues to dusk, watching the shapes turn to silhouette.

It's very soothing.

I like soothing.

Friday, 15 April 2011


Still no words to post at the moment, so I thought I'd post a link to "Come On In My Kitchen" by Robert Johnson, since it always stops me dead in my tracks.

Recommended late night, quiet listening.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Ice sculptures on the retina

I just read Zhisou's excellent latest post, a series of interconnected musings which I would recommend you have a look at (hope you don't mind me linking to it, Z).

One of the themes he touches upon is that of staring at the sun despite/because/regardless of the dangers involved: this triggered a memory for me, albeit only tangentially related to the aforementioned (aforelinked?) post.

Years ago I did numerous photography courses and projects, during my art college days. I loved photography, both the creative and technical aspects of it: generally speaking I was as happy spending hours in the darkroom as I was being out and about armed with camera and rolls of film (this was, of course, in the days before digital photography).

Often there'd be two or three of us crammed into a relatively small darkroom space - either because we were collaborating on a project, because no other darkrooms were available, or because we were just dossing about for the sake of it. On one such occasion, my self and two fellow students had just wrapped up an hour or two of developing photographs, and were about to switch the main light on (since it was now safe to do so without ruining any films or light sensitive paper).

Somehow, whoever was making for the light switch managed to accidentally trigger off the camera flash unit that he'd also just picked up. At first we cursed him due to the sudden and startling (not to mention blinding) flash, the effect was very disorientating - all bright colours and amorphous shapes suddenly burned onto the retina. It was almost like being punched, and the three of us collectively spent a moment trying to compose ourselves again.

Then a most weird sensation occurred. As I was looking round the darkroom (still pitch black - we hadn't found the light switch yet), I noticed, clear as day, a pair of hands floating around the room. Wherever I looked, up or down, there they were.

I quickly realised that my hands must have been in my line of sight when the flash went off. Now, after its momentary, almost explosive visual effect had subsided, what remained seared into my retina was what the light had hit when the flash went off - the image of my hands rendered with startling, monochrome clarity.

The other two students had noticed the same thing happening, corresponding to what had been in their own respective lines of sight at the moment in question.

So we didn't switch the light on. We waited a few moments for the images to fade, and then triggered the flashgun again. The same bright burst for a fraction of a second, quickly subsiding to reveal a monochrome imprint of whatever we were looking at.

Regardless of the potential for damage to our eyesight, we carried on playing with this. For example, if you looked down at your leg when the flash went off, and then looked upwards, you'd see your leg floating right above you - or at eye level if you were looking straight ahead. The flash rendered the images like ice sculptures - beautiful and clear and black and white, which added to the eeriness of the sensation.

Sometimes it would be genuinely unsettling - triggering the flash when someone's face was about two feet away from yours was to see a horror-mask flying around the room wherever you looked. Nonetheless, there was something quite addictive about the whole thing. It was like we were creating momentary, frozen scenes - stark, other-wordly, and lasting for just a few seconds before fading away forever.

Finally - after something like half an hour - we decided to stop and head out of the darkroom, blinking. Did our eyes ache? I can't remember. We repeated the whole thing numerous times though whenever we were back in the darkroom: despite wondering about the potential for retinal damage (it was certainly headache-inducing) there was too much novelty value not to give it another go.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The space between

"Spring? I'm so over it..."

Had a few days away last week. Most welcome, they were. My passport, and some Polish paper money, are still on the kitchen table.

It was a fabulous few days, though it already seems maddeningly distant. Seems disconcertingly easy to slip away, and into a change of pace and surroundings (though the latter are now becoming very familiar) and to catch up with pleasant and engaging company.

The return to the everyday is becoming disconcertingly more difficult, though I'm sure it was aided this time by switching the clock back by an hour on my return on Friday and then back forward again by an hour just over a day later. All the necessary, albeit minor readjustments, not least sleep patterns...the space between holiday and weekday mode is, shall we say, becoming a management issue.

I've trying to find ways to express this without being downright tedious or repetitious, and struggled. So when I saw the daffodil just outside, I thought, that'll do nicely. Problem solved: post-holiday syndrome in full expression.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Waking up

In fact, while I'm on the subject of alcohol, here's something I wrote (as part of a barely audible monologue for a piece of related music) while I was in the middle of the difficulties I refer to in the previous post. I make no claims for any kind of facility with words, it might read really badly (which is fine by me), but it did seem to sum up where I was at.

Drunk again
Spitting/pissing blood
Blind to my own thoughts: blank
Bruises sustained in ways unexplained

Clothes stained
(must have eaten, fallen or worse)
Some things are lost (like whole sections of time spent)

A case of memory versus imagination
Panic at something which triggers off the merest suggestion:
A balance between what might have been/what I'm capable of;
What other people might have seen

What's the worst thing I could be guilty of (there are no signs of anything telling)?

Plenty of unturned stones ready and waiting,
Once the pain has eased and thirst has been sated

The first moments of realisation, the opening lines of a little eternity:
Nameless and shapeless, yet capable of harm more than anything else

The smallest thought, the slightest suggestion
The merest aside, the darkest elation

All the a's

I thought this was an interesting article, in some respects, on alcoholism and addiction, and whether they fit into the straitjacket of the disease model.

Some years ago I went through a phase in which, for a while, my drinking could be described as problematic. Yet it wasn't drinking that was the problem in itself, it was merely (yes feel free to raise an eyebrow at the use of the word merely) a rather poor and unhealthy coping mechanism.

The article describes things very much from a US perspective, and in terms of someone who is very much in the news at the moment, nonetheless there are plenty of worthwhile general points regardless of the specific context of the article.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

10 years ago today

...I woke up and, before I moved, I knew it: I'd got flu. Proper flu. An attempt to roll over into a more comfortable position confirmed it - unveiled all the latent aches, pains, discomfort and downright dis-ease which had been waiting to reveal itself to my conscious person.

I'd been out with friends the previous night, to see a band play. A fantastic and rather riotous evening in full, clear recall to this day, for I was stone cold sober, and was to remain so for years. On my late-night walk to the bus stop I can remember feeling a little cold and shivery, but nothing more than minor discomfort.

Now, on waking, it must have been a Friday morning, since I was due to go and see my mother for the weekend, later that day.

I knew I wasn't well enough to go anywhere (in the event, my health kept me a virtual prisoner, in solitary confinement at that, for almost two weeks). I made two phone calls: one to my workplace to inform them that I wouldn't be going in; the other to my mother to inform her that I wouldn't be able to make it over, and that I was really sorry about it, but there was nothing I could do.

I wished her a happy 60th birthday.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Bleary eyes

I've spent a little while trying to write a post, scrapping it, trying to write it from a slightly different angle.

I've given up for one night. See the title for more information: I'm off to bed.

Night, all.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Misreading the signs

On a public information notice:

Don't make it easy for burglars - keep tights on and lock your windows and doors.

Clearly then, people who don't wear tights are more vulnerable to being burgled.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

New toy

So in a bit of rather aggressive stress management, I decided to stop stewing over all the nonsense that had got me worked up over the last few days, and stomped off into town to spend some Christmas money that had been in ever-present danger of being swallowed up into everyday expenditure.

Yes, it was time to treat myself, and I bought this digital audio recorder, which should prove useful for all sorts of things. Having a new toy to play with should also serve as a spur to pick up the momentum with my music again, which has frustratingly been a casualty of my energies being directed (and, as often as not, wasted) elsewhere in recent days.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Misreading the signs

It's getting silly.

Earlier today, passing a bank or building society, I read an advert which, to me at least, read

Give your child the gift of starving

WHAT??? Was my immediate response, before I reread and saw that it was actually

Give your child the gift of saving

I'm not even trying to make this stuff up, this was as much of a genuine misreading as the many others that I've posted. What it says about me, well...

Friday, 25 February 2011


February appears not to have been particularly conducive to blogging for me, doesn't it?

There's plenty I could talk and rant about, but I've ranted enough - in the workplace, hardly a surprise - and want to try and put it behind me for the sake of the weekend. I don't know how easy that's going to be though, after (as I just put in my reply to Carol on the previous comment thread) a frustrating end to a bewildering and difficult week.

I can tell I'm under stress:

I lost some keys. Only for a few minutes, but I never lose keys. Ever.

I was on my way out of a shop when the man at the counter called me back, I'd left my debit card in the card reader on the counter. I've never ever done that before. Ever. This was after renewing my weekly travel ticket, a day late, which meant that I'd been unwittingly travelling on an out of date pass. I never do that.


I walked into a door today. Ouch. It was half-open, I could see that, yet as I passed through the doorway I still managed to hit the door itself.

I've felt too exhausted most evenings, once home, to do much at all. Nothing constructive anyway. Feeling the tiredness in my legs, and the knots in my back and shoulders.

I really hope the weekend is ok, and I hope yours is too.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011


I heard someone say seventy-six a number of times in quick succession today. It was during a phone conversation they were having: I'm not sure what the seventy-six in question referred to.

It suddenly reminded me of the first band that I was in, though. The personnel consisted of me, my brother, and my grandad. Armed with a motley selection of antique instruments - a slightly battered trombone, a banjo with more than one of its strings missing, a wooden flute - we would sit at the top of my grandparents' stairs at a certain point on Saturday afternoons and perform our own, erm, idiosyncratic version of Seventy-Six Trombones.

We were great. Or at least I thought so at the time - I used to be giddy with enjoyment and excitement at the prospect of our "performances", like it was the highlight of my week. My grandad would conduct and play along, no doubt enjoying the sheer silliness of it, and perhaps stifling giggles at what a tuneless racket we were making.

Nonetheless, I still remember the melody, but that's probably from my grandad's singing.

I can only assume we chose the top of the stairs so that we were suitably elevated to enable the audience (otherwise known as my grandma) to view us without impediment. I never thought about this at the time though: for me it just went without saying that us musicians would sit at the top of the stairs.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Misreading the signs

A newspaper sub-headline this time:

Cats put extradition procedures in spotlight

Which brings about some wonderful mental images, though the correctly-read words were, of course, rather more prosaic (ie, "Case puts....").

Sunday, 30 January 2011

A suitable title, for once, escapes me

I was visited by an unfamiliar, almost bewildering sensation yesterday: contentment.

I wasn't expecting it. I'd gone to visit my mother for the weekend, never an unpleasant experience in itself, but one which tends to be dusted with a residue of poignancy for a number of reasons.

Adding to the surprise was that, when I arrived there on Friday evening, I felt exhausted, and imagined that the tone of the weekend was going to be set accordingly. By Saturday, I was still heavy-lidded and limbed, but my mood became paradoxically light. I was able to switch off and relax, something I never felt fully able to do when I visited over Christmas.

I embraced this contentment. I had an awareness of the reasons for its presence, which gave me a sense of quiet satisfaction - but I didn't wish to analyse too deeply in that respect, nor to indulge the temptation to view such contentment with sheer suspicion.

That it was there, was enough: it might not last, after all.

On a separate note, the month of January seems to have passed remarkably quickly. Most years I take a complete break from alcohol for the whole of the month: not so this time, but these days I generally drink at weekends only. I wonder if my lack of complete abstinence has served to make the time pass more speedily.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Liver little

Just before the New Year, I received a letter from my GP asking me to attend for what they termed a "wellness check". I rang up to enquire about this and they said it was a routine set of tests just to see how I'm doing.

I confirmed an appointment with them, and went along last week. I didn't have any particular worries.

Well actually, I did.

What worried me, if anything, was what the results would be like, given that this was so soon after the holiday season. I was a Christmas cliche, having eaten and drank in a manner which would not befit the word 'moderation'. I did put on weight during that time, but I was less concerned about that than about the state of my liver and my kidneys, which must have taken a bit of a battering.

Still, what they were able to tell me at the time wasn't too bad: blood pressure fine, waist measurement within the acceptably healthy range, overall weight 3kg less than when they last did these tests with me. They took blood samples to test for: liver, kidney, and thyroid function; diabetes; cholesterol; and blood cell count.

The test results were due today, and I must admit I did get a bit nervous when the doctor started to go through my results.

Thankfully my liver, kidneys and thyroid are all functioning normally; no sign of diabetes; blood cell count fine; cholesterol....well, cholesterol slightly high, but nothing to worry about as such. I said to the doctor that I assumed this was the Christmas effect as much as anything, though I imagine it's more due to a love of cheese and beer.

Still, I'm relieved to have had a clean bill of health. Bodily organs aside, there's been more than enough to put my blood pressure to the test over the last year.

Sunday, 23 January 2011


I was roused from some very strange dreams this morning by the muffled sound of my upstairs neighbour bursting into song. He got as far as one note and then immediately stopped himself: cognisant, perhaps, of the horrific implications of continuing.

I soon fell back to sleep and resumed my weird dreams which were caused, I'm sure, by a bout of indigestion. In one dream, every time I picked up the phone, and before I had the chance to dial a number, the phone automatically connected me to someone I really didn't want to speak to. I would slam the phone back down with a shudder.

The day, like the rest of the weekend, has been a pleasant one - but like the indigestion, the residual effect of such subconscious outpourings has remained with me all day, like a slightly bristly texture.

I've felt sleepy this evening but have still put an hour or two into working on music, though mainly listening - to stuff that I was working on rather gleefully last night, and to stuff I haven't revisited in years. Listening, listening, then listening some more, attending to a couple of technical or process-based things, then listening further.

Sooner or later, when some of these external sounds and processes have wormed their way further into the recesses of my mind, something will click and I'll be able to move them further on.

Not today though, today was mainly for listening...and digesting.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

In brief (2)

Just had a walk around some of the nicer city suburbs for a couple of hours. Pleasant and leafy, and with a slight other-worldly aspect thanks to the clear night sky and the brilliant moonlight. The temperature had dropped tangibly by the time I was nearing home, I could feel it in my fingertips - by no means an unpleasant sensation.

I heard the lovely hooting sound of an owl, and saw two foxes.

Freshened up and sat in my usual chair, a snack of bread and butter feels like the nicest food ever.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

In brief

Somebody mentioned the Panama Canal today, and it suddenly triggered off a memory of a dream last night, in which I was smoking cigars.

I don't remember much else about it (the dream), except for a vague sense of decadence. I used to be very anti-smoking when I was growing up, and then not too long after I started art college, I found myself on the cigars, and inhaling them fully.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Navel gazing alert

I suppose if I see myself as anything, it's as a thinker. I don't mean as an intellectual - whenever I have moments of that, I get a bit scared and go for the comfort of crassness instead - but rather, as a very reflective person.

Which has its strengths and weaknesses.

At the moment, in some ways, I think I'm trying to fight against that. Maybe I feel more comfortable defined in such a way (as a reflector, or whatever), but I'm better off when I'm actually doing stuff.

When I'm doing, I'm less likely to get anxious. The flip-side of this, is equally true (when I'm anxious, I'm less likely to get doing), and far more toxic.

My aim, lately, has been to think a lot less about the music that I'm working on, and just to do a lot more of it. One of the barriers that I put up for myself happens to be when I have really good ideas - the barrier being that it's far harder to put an idealised construct into practice from scratch, than it is to arrive at something good from an hour or two's messing around with actual sounds and processes, and therefore have something tangible to work with in the first place.

Of course there's a balance to be struck between such polar opposites, but at the moment it's definitely falling on the side of actually getting on with it and seeing what I can come up with, rather than have the best music ever going on in my head, and being paralysed by the sense that I'm never going to be able to adequately transcribe it.

So - what I've been able to come up with in the last few weeks is

a) a mixture of rubbish and of semi-interesting stuff which is hardly likely to go anywhere, at least in its present form

b) a few things which sound pretty good to my ears, but which need direction and focus

c) a couple of things which I'm really, really excited about.

The point is, a), b) and c) are all tangible. They all exist in some external sense, as opposed to just being in my head. All there to be built on, ignored, ripped apart or finely tuned accordingly.

The last couple of weeks, I've been putting the hours in on all this stuff. As often as not, that will mean a few hours of getting precisely nowhere. But it's still a few hours of doing, of engaging, of responding to these tangible things on some level. Such that at a certain point, something will click and will enable me to push things further on or take a different and potentially more interesting avenue.

Right now, I'm feeling - and I don't know if this is the right word, but it'll do - rather militant about all this. Working on this stuff is my escape, my nourishment, the ear-to-ear grin on my face when things are taking shape - and I'm feeling intolerant to the tendency to put my own barriers up to it. I'm feeling alive to a combination of volume, texture, repetition, layering, sculpting and happy accidents, random interventions and anything which keeps the process going.

The last couple of nights, after a couple of drinks, I've listened back to some recordings of the last few gigs I played - all relatively few and far between - and I've thought, shit, I'm actually ok with how that sounds.

This year is, I'm sure, going to be a tough year (given that I found last year to be one of the toughest I've had). I intend to make it a better year regardless, by way of the above.

That feels like a bold claim. I'll see what I can do in that respect, because doing really is the operative word.

Saturday, 15 January 2011


I spotted this stripey fellow earlier. He wasn't very well - on his last legs, in fact. But - seriously - a wasp? In January?

Thursday, 13 January 2011


As long as I spend no more than £3.10 during the daytime tomorrow, then I will have achieved an aim: the start of some serious budgeting. This week's budget for daytime spending was £12.50. I've never exactly been a profligate spender, but thus far it's been instructive to see just how much I can save without any really drastic difference to my day-to-day living.

In fact, I had an appointment this week regarding some longer-term monetary planning. I had an initial appointment last month, and this was to be the follow-up.

To be being the caveat in the last sentence, since I cancelled the appointment. Not because of a wish to bury my head in the financial sand, nor because I find such things dull, far too grown-up, and rather anxiety-provoking in equal measure. Nor because of an unconscious tendency to picture the advisor as an ogre and a bully who wants to take a jackboot to my rather laissez faire approach to such measures.

No, I didn't cancel it for any of those reasons. I would certainly have felt like doing so, since all the above reasons have weighed on my mind, but I would have been seriously disappointed in myself had I done so.

I cancelled it because work is once again at a point of precariousness. Despite the current climate it looks like, at the very least, I should still be in employment for the foreseeable future. But such details as if, when, why, what, how, who with, how often and for how much depend on a bewildering number of variables.

Thus, I see no sense in pushing ahead with longer-term plans just yet, not until such pressing short-term issues have been resolved: it will be collision time in that respect before the end of next month, I'm guessing. Plus I'd rather have just the one headache at a time, thank you very much.

In other, erm, "news", I find myself keep asking the question, "what does one do with January?". I've yet to find a definitive answer.

As well as cutting down on the amount of money I spend, I realised a few nights ago that I also need to cut down on caffeine - endless cups of tea in my case, coffee being more of a weekend indulgence - having lain awake for a good while and really not feeling able to relax. My mind was racing and not switching off, as I fervently tried to remember the name of a country on the Adriatic coast. No way was I going to get up and leaf through the book I'd been reading which mentioned said country, I had to remember without any external help.