Tuesday, 2 December 2014

a new old desire

There's never any highway when you're looking for the past
The land becomes a memory and it happens way too fast
The money's all in Nashville but the light's inside my head
So I'm goin' down to Florence just to learn to love that thread

author as ghost 
Just before we left Philadelphia in the Summer, I rushed up to Barnes and Noble to get the latest issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine knowing that we're a month behind in the UK. On the flight home I read the interview with John Doe who, I must admit, is a songwriter that hasn't particularly bothered me over the years. However, the "former punk" writer who turned 60 this year said this:

. . . I don't want to be unhappy. At the end of the last record (sic) I felt, this is a bummer. I don't want to be a sad sack. So things turned around and I had to think how to write songs that were relevant to what's going on now.

This started me thinking and has finally led me to the here and now. What do older songwriters actually write about? Where's the relevance? What keeps them writing? What have they got to say?

We now have a generation of writers and performers who are documenting their progression into both the Autumns and Winters of their lives. Songwriters in the past were, of course, younger and writing about things that younger people want to hear about. Usually love - or to be more precise, unrequited love. Occasionally a Thompson or Randy Newman would write a story-song. How about this:

As I was walking homeward in the early morning light
Leaving far behind the prison where I'd spent the night
With no idea of what I'd done or why they'd punished me
But feeling nonetheless relieved and grateful to be free

Story songs did become popular for a while and for many of us, still are. RT has made them a major part of his modern songwriting - try 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, Beeswing and Johnny's Far Away as examples. 

More recently, Rodney Crowell seems to have been writing his autobiography in song with candid honesty about his youth, John Hiatt has taken the themes of getting older and finding romance again after the kids have moved out whilst others chart the ways of the World. I have yet to listen to Jackson Browne's latest who certainly falls into that category. Neil Young continues to grow old disgracefully and, to be honest, it's a long time since I cared about what Bob Dylan writes about. As for Robert Plant, the mushrooms seem to have kicked in. One writer who has made one of the strongest albums of the year is Roseanne Cash. That's The Man in Black's daughter, of course. The River and The Thread is a concept album (in this day and age?) about the South. That's the Southern States of the USA, not Bournemouth or Southampton. 

Cash and her husband John Leventhal have created a beautiful soundscape for this album - it's all Fogerty-like twangy guitars and moody. There's even an electric sitar (cf Steely Dan's Do It Again for reference). The songs range over swampy blues, Stax soul, mountain ballads with some gorgeous melodies. But what are the songs about?

The songs seem to roam over a mythical Southern landscape featuring ghosts from the past and present imagery whilst bringing in her own childhood - and her father's poor upbringing - in to the picture. She and Leventhal speak about the album in painterly terms. On Modern Blue she talks about travelling around the World but always heading home and elsewhere the word "blue" turns up several times and certainly there are shades of blue in the music. Overall, this is like a gothic blues album, if there is such a thing. It's about a land where the ghosts of Robert Johnson and Bobbie Gentry walk off into the sunset to that haunting electric sitar.

So, it appears that as songwriters age they start to find meanings away from their earlier spheres of operation. Back in 1999 at the grand old age of fifty Richard Thompson's album Mock Tudor seemed to be a concept album haunted by the past only with London as it's mythical landscape. I'm not sure if Mick Jagger or Pete Townshend are still actively writing. I have a feeling that if they are, I won't be very interested.

This blog post looks mostly at American songwriters. Part two will concentrate on a particularly British take of what old writers might write about.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

little cups of wisdom

Coming down for breakfast in a New York hotel one morning in the summer, I was quite taken with the cardboard sleeve that is slipped around the coffee cup. Everything in the breakfast room was disposable - plates, cups, plastic cutlery and the food obviously.

What had caught my bleary eye was that there was a little aphorism printed on mine. There was a different one on Mrs Dave's. I wandered over to the stack of sleeves to find that each of them had different aphorisms on them. I collected a few as I thought they were an interesting idea. The 100% recycled cardboard had each aphorism printed in dark blue on them. To me a sleeve - what I now know to be a zarf - is simply there to help stop scalding your fingers. But no, even here there is an opportunity to offer Life Coaching. At least it reminds me to "take care" which is thoughtful. In truth, I thought that I could write a song using the different aphorisms. I was going to call it "Little Cups of Wisdom" then promptly forgot about it. One told me to "flip the switch because the best form of light is natural" and another, in the photo on the left, reminds me to breathe if I'm feeling stressed. Presumably because if I,m stressed, I'll forget to do what I've been doing for the past fifty eight years.

This morning whilst idly looking through some articles in the Guardian on-line I came across this one which reminded me of those aphoristic sleeves ( I can't bring myself to seriously use the above term). We don't seem to be able to escape these helpful words. In the article the writer tells us that "inspirational quotes have become a key indicator of a person worth following." Most people I know hate these little words of wisdom.

The idea that as we have become more secularised we feel the need for "a kind of verified wisdom that seems both omnipotent and instinctive, timeless and personal" could be true. I'll add to these irritating messages the rise in company slogans - even schools have them. They call them "Mission Statements". Ours, believe it or not, is "Making our best better" which I find ludicrous.If our best students are already the "best" how can they become "better"? What idiot thought that was a great Mission Statement?

I'm beginning to get stressed. Where's that zarf? What did it say?

Sunday, 16 November 2014

passing ghosts

back on the coach in the morning, head full of pain
sleepy-eyed still yawning, yes we're back on the road again
sometimes makes me wonder what we'll be like at the end

It's nineteen years to the day since Alan Hull died. I was 39 and had just started my first proper teaching job as a newly qualified English teacher at a very tough school in Ipswich. I knew I had to take possession of my teaching room and make it my own, so amongst the poems and the poster of Munch's Scream I put up the obituary from the Independent. I didn't think anyone would care as I also knew that nobody read anything put up in classrooms. Particularly kids.

What I hadn't appreciated was that the room I had been given was also the one used regularly for meetings by various departments as well as management. So it was pleasant to be asked by someone about the obituary. Tim, a history teacher at the time, said he was so bored in the meeting that he started to look around at the posters on the walls when he noticed this one and had been quite upset as he had always liked Lindisfarne.  He hadn't been aware that Hully had died. Well, nearly twenty years on and I still occasionally meet up and go to gigs with Tim. The headteacher of the school was a Richard Thompson fan - and of folk music generally - so I did feel at home at the school for a while.

Still, Alan Hull. At the tender age of fifty Alan died suddenly. Things were looking up at the time after a helter-skelter career in the music business. He was a keen supporter of the Labour Party and secretary of his local constituency. I'm not sure how true it is but there was talk of him standing for Parliament but, alas, it was never to be. What he would make of the state of the current version of the Party is anyone's guess. I can't imagine he would have been a Blairite either!

Politics aside, Hull's legacy is a fine body of songs - a very strong body of fine songs indeed. Whilst the general public at the time of his death probably couldn't care less, many could probably have looked back through their back pages and found singles, maybe an album and a memory of a great gig they'd witnessed. His legacy is of a sort of Northern Lennon but to be honest, Alan was a much more honest and intelligent man than the very emotionally screwed up Scouser.

For me, Alan had been an inspiration and I had seen him with Lindisfarne many times and managed, thankfully, to see him solo at Hitchin folk club - in the Nightingale years -  and had even got drunk with him a couple of times way back in the mid-1970s.

I guess a lot of people only think of the band as being a good time pop band. However, I think that during their heyday, the band were a very potent force. The first album Nicely Out of Tune was not only an incredibly apt title but also chock-full of great songs. The acoustic-driven sound of the album was certainly part of the early seventies Zeitgeist amongst such popular gems Bridge Over Troubled Waters and  Led Zeppelin III and After the Gold Rush. No one bought it at the time of course. But songs like Clear White Light - Part 2 and Lady Eleanor were haunting and very, very striking to a fourteen year old loner whose other favourite album at the time was Trespass by Genesis. Interestingly, the whole acoustic vibe has stayed with me since those halcyon days.

Just in case someone out there points out that I wasn't a huge fan of NOOT when it first came out - it was, after all, a bit too Beatle-y for me on first few hearings. You have to remember that the Fab Four were my (older) sister's band, I was into the emerging prog bands, the Moodies, Crimso and of course Genesis. Interestingly, my favourite songs of those bands were the acoustic ones*. Honest, M'lud. However, it didn't take long to become convinced. Seeing them live was what really did it.

Over those early years of the seventies Lindisfarne became ubiquitous - Rod Stewart even had Ray Jackson from the band playing mandolin on his biggest hit. Having the opportunity to see Lindisfarne at Reading and Weeley (June and August 1971) festivals as well as at the Lyceum on the "Six Bob Tour" in January 1971 I realise now was better than mis-spending my youth learning how to play snooker. I even took my parents (well, I guess they took me as I couldn't drive and had no income) to see them at Watford Top Rank on Wednesday 18th October 1972. By this time I was failing educationally but riding high on promoting well-attended gigs at Stevenage College.

The last point there brings us neatly to the aforementioned drinking episodes with AH. As Social Secretary of the College (a Union member even then) I booked the bands - the whole point of being Social Sec, of course. I became friendly with the Charisma promoters Paul Conroy and Nigel Kerr. Both seem to have done okay (well in Paul's case running Virgin Records was quite a high point for him, I guess) but in those days they were always trying to get little guys like me to book their mostly obscure or "bubbling under" bands. Most of these bands disappeared into running building firms or alcoholism of course. Still, because I used them a few times I was often able to blag free tickets into the Marquee in Wardour Street or even other bigger gigs. Consequently, I became a regular at the Nelly Dean pub in Dean Street. As regular readers may be aware, I still frequent Soho drinking establishments when I get the chance. The Nelly Dean was the Charisma Records watering hole of choice.

Quite often the bar at the Nelly Dean was full of members of various Charisma acts at lunch times and especially on Friday evenings. One particular evening I remember most of Genesis (sans Peter Gabriel), label boss Tony Stratton-Smith, various Lindisfarnes and I getting quite less than sober. Chris Welch, the Melody Maker journalist, was at a table with Viv Stanshall and they were definitely much less than sober than me. This is the time that Phil Collins bought me a pint. I mention that as most people say he's a very mean person. I won't have a word spoken against him. He bought me a pint**.

Alan was there too. I found him quite a private person. He was outwardly at times jolly and I guess because they were a drinking band rather than a stoner band Lindisfarne were seen as a good time band. Alan had a far away look in his eyes on the few times I met him. There was a lot going on behind those eyes. That night he was part of a large gathering of friends and work colleagues (and I was just a little oik who was no doubt intruding) and therefore seemed happy enough. I'd also seen him wander on stage and fall over obviously having enjoyed the refreshments backstage a few times. This was a man after my own heart - someone who enjoyed the craic enjoyed other people's company but was a deep thinker.

One day at one of those all-Sunday Roundhouse concerts (I went to so many I honestly can't remember who was on), which I think was about 1974, I bumped into Alan at the bar. He seemed dimly aware of the fact we'd met before. He'd met so many people over the years I'm sure he didn't even remember my name. Still, he seemed happy that he vaguely recognised me and that I seemed to know who he was without being starstruck that he wanted to sit in the corner of the bar and spend a few hours in each other's company. I must admit that he seemed distant and certainly didn't want to talk about the band or previous success. I respected that and we sat and just generally chatted. Occasionally he'd fade away and get lost in his thoughts and then snap back out of it and chat for a while. A cynic might assume that he was out of it but I think he was quite deeply affected by the rise and fall of the capriciousness of fame and was in the dark days after the disintegration of the band.

A few years later I travelled up to the notorious Chorley Festival, which I'll no doubt write about another time, and saw Alan's band Radiator. The band didn't last long but it was definitely AH and backing band. In the early 1980s he played the Hitchin Folk Club and the future Mrs Dave and I went along. Alan was superb and played a mixture of old and new songs. It was a glorious evening that seemed both hopeful for the future and elegiac for times past.

I love the first three Lindisfarne albums and his solo album Pipedream, which was one of my mother's favourites too. I haven't tried to write about how great many of his songs are as they stand up on their own merits. The man was one of those great Englishmen we've all met one or two of along the way. He was a deep thinker, a little eccentric maybe but overall, he was one of the great British songwriters.  I think he was one of those influences on my life that has kept me thinking about the three Ps: people, politics and pints. There's nothing wrong with that. I'm sure that the fact that a 12 string acoustic guitar and a mandolin hang on my wall with equal placing to my Strat is partly due to Alan Hull. The sound that the band pioneered with no attempt at flashy showmanship and pure song-craft has stayed with me for the last 44 years.

I haven't attempted here to write about the songs, which was my intention. I realised that whilst writing this I have dwelt on the man. That's interesting and makes me realise that he was inspirational in all sorts of ways. Maybe next year on the twentieth anniversary of his death I'll tackle the songs. In the meantime, I'll let the man himself tell you about it here.

In the meantime, I'm raising a glass or two to the spirit of one of the greats. Cheers, Alan.

One more bottle of wine.
opened up to the name of love in the nick of time,
drunk to the future of mankind
for in truth we are the blind leading the blind
let's have another drink for God's sake
though we're on the brink of a bad break
let's have another drink for God's sake.

Alan Hull (February 20th 1945 - November 17th 1995)

* Question by the Moodies & Cadence & Cascade by King Crimson always affected me more than their wilder moments. 

**It's a boring story but he had accidentally poked me in the ear with a bar billiard cue at Bletchley Youth Club a few years previously - I brought the subject up as I had little else to talk to him about! He felt he should buy me a pint to say sorry.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

long distance love

Everybody wants to be my friend
But nobody wants to get higher
Long-distance operator
I believe I'm stranglin' in this telephone wire

Every day we get more and more dire warnings about the use of social notworking networking. Today it was about Government Agencies spying on us - or was that yesterday? Evidently Terrorists use Facebook to arrange their nefarious activities. If they can work out how to use Facebook they're welcome. The 24 hours I spent on it was so awful an experience I'm seriously traumatised by it.

Still, yesterday there was a story in the Independent in its i100 section that caught my eye (no pun intended). For one thing it was brief but it did annoy me. Always a good thing. The article suggests that "unpopular Twitter users" (sic) shouldn't waste everybody else's time by bothering to even think about tweeting a comment. 

This ridiculous piece of "analysis" by the Technical University of Madrid suggests that the only reason anyone would use Twitter is to gain a huge amount of followers. Now, I'm aware that some people click to follow people in the assumption that if you follow someone, they'll automatically follow you in return. It seems that the name of the game is to gain as many followers as possible and be retweeted more than anyone else. The article states:

“Having a larger number of followers is much more important than the user’s ‘effort’ or activity in sending lots of messages,” lead researcher Rosa M. Benito said. “The data shows that the emergence of a group of users who write fewer tweets but that are largely retweeted is due to the social network being heterogeneous.”

Does anyone know what that last part actually means? It doesn't make any sense to me. It does, however suggest that the standards of journalism in so-called quality papers is sinking ever lower. Since newspapers realised that nobody buys them any more so they have to spew everything up onto the internet, the art of proof-reading seems to be rapidly disappearing.

I thought using the various social networking platforms was to be able to keep in contact with (real) friends and family, make a few jokes and pass around a the occasional good article you've found.  Oh, and for the more intellectually challenged,videos of animals being hilarious. Mind you, I did find it quite funny that people quickly jumped onto the Russell Brand/Parklife bandwagon. I'm reminded of the interview with the so-called "inventor of the internet©" Sir Tim Berners-Lee when asked what he thought of his brainchild. He replied, "Well, I didn't expect so many cats."

Anyway, I remain obviously an unpopular Twitter user with very little influence on the world at large. I'm devastated. By the way, if you can understand what the hell the graphic that accompanies the article actually represents, keep it to yourself.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

misty mountain hop

I sometimes see myself as a wanderer
In the days before the road,
Avoiding all inhabitable contact
Afraid of the heavy load . . . 
. . . I'm afraid of the heavy load.

Walking along the Malvern Hills Ridge I became aware of the panoramic view below us.  I often find myself identifying with the character of Goldmund from Herman Hesse's Narziss and Goldmund in these situations. Goldmund realised that perhaps locking himself into a lifetime of being a monk may not be the only career path open to him, and wandered off to 'find himself' and realised his own artistic talent. Along the way he realised that he's attractive to women and embarks on various love affairs. Okay, well, the similarity certainly ends there but maybe I'm just aware of some vague sort of artistic talent. But the point remains. The song by Michael Chapman I quote above also reminds me of this particular novel -  a favourite of mine from the past (I must re-read it but that could prove fatal to my memory of it!). The call of the countryside and the call of the city is often as strong for Goldmund.

However, as I wandered along the ridge and stopped to admire the view of the patchwork quilt below us I realised that writers such as Tolkien and  C. S. Lewis had trodden in exactly these hills before me. Whilst not really containing mountains, this area rises and falls beautifully and one can see exactly why it had become the Hobbit's homeland, and in reality the beloved spaces of Tolkien's imagination. Maybe that's the sort of view Dave Cousins saw that inspired this:

 Could you only see what I've seen
You would surely know what I mean

I think I must have caught a glimpse of heaven.

Looking back across the early 21st Century landscape of the Shires I'm made aware by my guides and travelling companions - people who have lived here for about quarter of a century - of the huge impact of mankind here. The growth of human habitation on the landscape below us has not spoilt the huge panoramic view for us but I guess if you've walked these hills every week for the past twenty five years, you will have noticed less fields and more bricks and roads than when you first started wandering here. Worcester seems much closer nowadays.

My adopted home county of Suffolk is inextricably linked to Worcester and its environs historically - the reconstructed settlement of West Stow and Redwald's funeral barrow at Sutton Hoo, for instance. In his book The Real Middle Earth, Brian Bates paints a vivid picture of the reality of the world Tolkien attempted to recreate. However, Bates was trying to create a 'history' of a world that seems to be much misunderstood: a post-Roman world that mistrusted its own past and didn't really leave a trustworthy documentation of its own history. I notice that even in the section on plants and Middle Earth, little is really forthcoming. Whilst walking the ridge of the Malverns, I photographed this Parasol Mushroom (Macrolepiota Procera) standing proud with no pretence of hiding, and thought that this would be a real prize for any Middle Earther out foraging. I didn't pick it, of course, as I couldn't accept that it might be a good meal. I've read the warnings, thank you! I thought, too, of the Druid Getafix from the Asterix books and how such as he would wander the landscape only using what was needed and leaving only a footprint like some Gallic pothead pixie.

At some stage - and it may be sooner than we'd like to think - foraging and facility with a bow and arrow may be pretty useful if the prophecies of our rapidly declining natural resources are anything to go by. In the meantime, I'll buy my mushrooms from the farm shop and presume the meat I buy has traceable provenance.

I enjoyed looking out over the landscape unfolding beneath me. The farmland certainly seemed like the patchwork quilt Cousins sings about. It tells a story of many hundreds of years without too much pressure to change; and the story I was being told as I looked brought together that past and a future that was happier to change much more slowly. Unfortunately, I think that there are designs to change this landscape quickly and irretrievably.  This high above it you can see the brown field sites this government are so greedily desperate to sell off and build on.

So, we walk these footpaths and eat at the inns we find and take in the experience whilst we can. Finding a small pub that seems to run on 1970s time with delicious non-fast food, food that suggests another world, another time - whisper light wholemeal bread with the most gorgeous, soft goat's cheese and beetroot - reminds me that whilst I'm part of a digital world, it's a chimera at best. If the digital world disappeared, the organic world would continue.

However, I'm aware that we often accept our experiences without really taking full note of them. Whither Orwell's Moon Under Water? If I genuinely found it - his imaginary pub, that is - would I be able to guide someone else there? I can read a map and I can look out over a landscape and imagine a previous time - not a better one, but a more rural and less technically dependent one - and see myself as a wanderer in those times. Would I, like Goldmund, come back to discuss the ugliness of humanity  with an old friend, having refused to join the membership of a guild so that I could enjoy the freedom of being a man of the road? I tend to think that I'd be like Marco Polo in Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities and come back to describe my adventures - even if they are all enjoyed in the same basic places*  - much as I probably did when I used to come back off of holiday and tell my mother of my adventures. My mother seldom ventured out of her known world but enjoyed the stories, much like Kubla Khan in Calvino's novel.

hello trees, hello flowers . . . 
A few days away in a different environment can certainly work wonders. I love existing outside of my own experience for brief periods - these moments make me feel like Goldmund or some similar wanderer for a while. It's a good feeling to divorce yourself from the everyday once in a while.

*Every city Polo described to Khan was Venice.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

caught in the flash of the curious camera

In every precinct a golden mile
in every doorway stands heart's desire
but see him crouching running through the fire
cos he's the man who built America 

As a Film Studies teacher for the last twelve or so years but not being a film buff particularly, I have always taken it upon myself to "read around the subject". This is of, course the most sage advice I have ever given when asked by students, their parents and management. "Reading around the subject" is the easiest thing in the world to do, after all, shops and the internet are full of them. Books about film/cinema/da moovees have grown exponentially in the last few years. But do they listen? Do they . . .

When I used to teach Surrealist film as a subject area - which somehow seems to have been about six years ago now - I would always include some Chuck Jones cartoons, particularly the Roadrunner ones. I'm pretty sure that none of my students wrote about these cartoons in their exams. I presume - and hope, obviously - they chose to write about the main study films such as Le Chien AndalouLittle Otik, Alice  and Being John Malkovich. Mostly they hated them and I soon gave up the idea and started to concentrate on "Popular Film and Emotional Response", Mexican Cinema - I'd given up on Iranian Cinema too- and Vertigo as the close study film. Most of the students wanted to study Fight Club until they watched it and I showed them the sort of reading material and type of questions they'd get. The main problem here is that most students (occasionally there'd be one or two who would be interested enough to read around the subject) couldn't cope with the sort of texts they needed to read to have that greater understanding. I don't think that they could even read a book like 1000 Films to Change Your Life.

Still, in his autobiography Chuck Amuck, Chuck Jones included the nine rules that he claimed were always obeyed in the creation of each Coyote-Roadrunner cartoon.  These rules found on
page 225 were:

1. The Road Runner cannot harm the Coyote except by going "beep, beep!"
2. No outside force can harm the Coyote - only his own ineptitude or the failure of Acme products. Trains and trucks were the exception from time to time.
3. The Coyote could stop anytime - if he were not a fanatic. “A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim.” (George Santayana)
4. No dialogue ever, except "beep, beep!"
5. The Road Runner must stay on the road – otherwise, logically, reason than that he would not be called Roadrunner.
6. All action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters -- the southwest American desert.
7. All materials, tools, weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from the Acme Corporation.
8. Whenever possible, make gravity the Coyote's greatest enemy.
9. The Coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.

This to me always showed how much craftsmanship went into the cartoons - by sticking to the boundaries, verisimilitude for this elastic and violent world was created.

Back in August the family were in New York and we had to go to Queens for a meal at the Himalayan Yak (definitely recommended) to meet some of our eldest daughter's friends. As the family were spread around NYC for the day we needed somewhere to meet before set off to find the restaurant. After consulting various guide books I noticed that the Museum of the Moving Image was nearby (about 35 minutes away) in the Astoria region, which seemed ideal. Even better was the fact that there was a Chuck Jones exhibition on at the time. That was a first - usually these things open a week or two later after I've gone home!

The exhibition was fantastic - artwork, scripts, memorabilia and loops of cartoons such as Duck Rogers in the 24½ Century * and What's Opera, Doc? Two of the best examples of his work. After wandering around the top floor where the exhibition was, we wound our way down to look at the rest of the museum. I was aware that there was more to the American film industry than Hollywood but to be honest, I wasn't quite aware of the rich seam of talent and film work that came out of these studios. I'll leave you to discover more for yourselves but here's a link to the Wikipedia page. 

To be honest, I think the rest of the family were just indulging me about the exhibition, but once we met there it took a while to get everyone out. The studios themselves whilst giving us in Britain the name Astoria for many of our cinemas, tend to concentrate on TV production. However, the Marx Brothers filmed there amongst many others. There is a whole history of film production there and if you're ever in NYC, it's well worth a visit. 

By having a deeper interest in film and from "reading around the subject" I was able to find somewhere unusual to visit and learn something new. Now that's a good day out.

*Erm, is it just me or are those "Evaporators" rather familiar? This was 1953 and a full thirteen years before the first Star Trek tv series.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

the cranes

On their wings they are returning
On their wings they fly
Shadows fade the sun is burning high

Every day the light stays longer
Every day you sigh
Shadows fade you start to wave goodbye

If you're thinking of leaving
You're leaving at a very bad time
If you're thinking of leaving
You're leaving at a very bad time

Grey on grey the sky is changing
Grey on grey sunrise
Morning breaks the crimson waits behind

Only love can end the yearning
Only love knows why
Only love the colour of your eyes

If you're thinking of leaving
You're leaving at a very bad time
If you're thinking of leaving
You're leaving at a very bad time

On their wings they are returning
On their wings they fly
Winter fades the sun is burning high

The first time I went to Spain was probably about ten years ago. I was there for about half an hour. I have been back once and I managed to stay there for about three days. The first time was a quick trip from Portugal because we'd hired a car and the weather was awful so we took a trip down to Spain. It was a sleepy little seaside town with very little happening.

What was notable about the trip was that as we went over a bridge, we looked down and a flock of flamingos were wading and feeding in a river. It was a magical sight. There were - seemingly - hundreds of them and they looked fleetingly elegant and slightly hallucinatory.  A few years earlier than that we had driven across the Camargue and seen Storks nesting on chimneys. But Cranes? I've never seen one in the wild - the closest I've ever got is the Brooke Bond PG Tips card in my Wildlife in Danger album (by Peter Scott - price sixpence).

Patty Larkin was driving from Manhattan, Kansas to Hastings, Nebraska  some time in 2003. She was with her Road Manager when they found themselves under a sky full of cranes migrating north. She says of the experience:

It was little Vs making a large V and it was probably a mile wide. It was so cool. . . the song came to me that night.

On the CD version from Red=Luck she plays and sings it with her own acoustic guitar accompaniment backed by an acoustic bass (Mike Rivard) and Aussie guitarist Jeff Lang. His achingly beautiful slide guitar playing reminds me of Martin Simpson but others suggest Ry Cooder. Larkin tuned her acoustic guitar down to a Double-dropped D tuning (DADGBD) a half step lower (ie, all notes flattened a half-step). The verses are picked and the bass has a deep soulful thrum that can resonate in your chest, there are a few strummed G chords in the chorus. A simply stated song. It's an exquisite song that stays with you long after it has finished. It has that hovering quality of beautifully recorded acoustic instruments and a gorgeous voice - an intimacy that you can't forget. 

The notes and melancholy atmosphere of the words hang in the air and give a beautiful evocation of coming across one of those wonderful moments in nature that we are only occasionally party to. It's not a song that is easy to understand why it resonates but the chorus suggests a deeper meaning - something beautiful having to move on. Maybe it's a metaphor for a departed lover.

Go for the original version* although she re-recorded it it with David Wilcox on 25 and there's a live version on youtube with a story about the song's genesis.

I'd love to hear Martin Simpson do a version of it.

*Apologies for the site - I couldn't find a complete version of the original. Should you wish to download a version I'm sure you'll go to iTunes or Amazon and pay for it so the artist gets the royalty. I've just checked and it's on Spotify too.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

bearded tits

I can't help about the shape I'm in,
I can't sing, I ain't pretty and my legs are thin.
But don't ask me what I think of you
I might not give you the answer that you want me too.

Oh well, indeed.

About forty one years ago I started growing a beard. It was a bit scrappy and probably didn't look too good. A friend's dad was a bank manager and took the piss out of me relentlessly - evidently I looked like a "Billy goat". I guess nearly half a century ago bank managers knew what was acceptable in respectable life whereas I'm expecting to meet a bank manager with facial tattoos and piercings any day now. I just had a small chin and felt a beard made me look a bit older and less immature.

Beards are very much in vogue nowadays, evidently. Comments about them and how awful they look seem to crop up regularly. I must admit that I still have a beard - as always, it's more of a goatee when I haven't taken it back to a five o'clock shadow - and am used to it. To me it's much like having a glass eye or a monobrow or some other vaguely unusual feature that people get used to you sporting. Like Owen Wilson's nose. But, ultimately, it's a choice.

Recently I have noticed that some of the comments made about younger men sporting facial hair have been quite vitriolic. I have, I must admit, noticed that large beards seem quite popular. The Amish look seems very popular amongst certain types. In the early Summer when I was in London a few times, particularly around Soho, I did have a slight flashback to Jerusalem in the late seventies. There were a lot of large beards - maybe in this current climate I should call it the 'Bob Hite' look. Mr Hite was the large gentleman who sang Going Up the Country with Canned Heat. And then during the Summer New York seemed awash with young men who certainly favoured an Amish look. The ones around Philadelphia were Amish so they don't count here.

When we got back to Blighty in late August beards became a major talking point. In fact, it was the look itself and the young men that wear them that became a major talking point. The newspapers started to run articles about them: the Independent and the Guardian particularly. Evidently - and it was news to me, these chaps are called "Hipsters". I always thought that was a style of trousers but I've been known to be wrong before. There is even a Wikihow on how to become a Hipster, should you so wish. Unfortunately, the opening paragraph sounds like myself and many friends but none of us would want to be "Hipsters" I'm sure.

One thing that I have learnt from these articles is that Williamsburg N.Y. is the "Hipster capital of the World" - would that be the Williamsburg N.Y. that we wandered about in on a very hot day in August? The very Williamsburg that I mentioned in my last post (cf Earwax Records)? Well I must admit to not seeing very many young men with large beards who evidently smell a lot. However, we did go into a clothes shop that had some very nice - and very expensive - clothes in. All made in the USA evidently. Now I think about it the clothes in there were aimed at a particular audience and, other than possibly the softest denim shirt I have ever felt, were not to my taste. Unlike the Bedford Cheese Shop which was definitely to my taste. A lovely place which we returned to  on the way home. The Crottin from California and the Juliana from Indiana cheeses were gorgeous. . .

Where was I? Oh yes, young hipster types with beards. It seems that one of the biggest problems is that the movement is difficult to market so the media has taken against them and decided to pour its opprobrium upon them. I'm sure that must be the reason. Or, as the Boots and Gloves video above  suggests perhaps they are just a natural enemy for all who see themselves as 'normal'. Evidently many of these Hipsters are rather wealthy which is another thing to hold against them, of course.

Well I don't really know but it must be near the end of Hipster-dom now that even Roy Keane has started sporting  a full Yusef- call-me-Cat set of facial fungus. I may not know much about what's hip but I do understand how to quickly kill off a youth movement. And as that older Hipster from another time siad:

Because something's happening here
But you don't know what it is,
Do you, Mr Jones?

Since posting this I watched the short film about the aforementioned Mr Stevens who definitely looks like the stereotypical Hipster in all but age - big beard, hat, sunglasses. However, it's a nice film that features the other former Island Record British Muslim musician of this parish. Well worth a view.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

sighing for retirement

O take me from the busy crowd,
          I cannot bear the noise!
For Nature's voice is never loud;
          I seek for quiet joys.

We took the annual pilgrimage to the Trimley Marshes Blackthorn patch as Mrs Dave felt the call to make some Sloe gin. Now, we don't have a "secret Sloe patch of which (we) speak proudly and guard jealously" as John Wright writes in Hedgerow (River Cottage Handbook No 7) but we do have two regular patches that tend never to fail us.

One of the patches is over the river at Bawdsy. It's a tiny fenced off wild field but we've never been told off for entering and helping ourselves. The other is the Trimley one we went to yesterday.

As we walked along the track past the fields and marvelling at the rich Autumnal colours amongst the trees, we laughed about a previous trip a few years ago. We had done exactly the same thing but on a Sunday. The weather was okay but "threatening to wet" as Bill Caddick sings. By the time we had started to pick the Sloes the rain got heavier and heavier, eventually causing us to give up and trudge back to the car soaked. What made it so memorable was that an old lady in a car drove past (cars rarely traverse lanes) and stopped to give us a lift. She didn't mind that we dripped rivulets into her car's interior. Such is the kindness of strangers. As we remembered that time, spots of rain started to hit us occasionally. Mrs Dave took no chances and elected to wear her flimsy rain coat - of the 'pacamac' variety - but despite the clouds in the distance nothing much came of it. In fact, the sun broke through and the walk back to the car later was beautiful and quite warm.

We had a good haul of Sloes, we'd managed to time it just right and find plenty of juicy ones amongst
the dried and shrivelled fruits waiting around to rot. A trip to Lidl on Sunday to find some reasonably priced gin and next year's supply is secured. I'm not a fan of gin at all - it suggests golf clubs and weekend sailors to me - but Sloe Gin is another beast all together. I've found quite a few mentions of it in various recipes such as crumbles and gravy. It's a much more pleasant drink than normal gin and certainly comes into its own to sip as a postprandial tipple.

Near to the car park we stopped to look back over the fields and tracks that we have wandered across this past quarter of a century and admired the Stratocumulus clouds looming over the horizon. at least, I think that's they are. I'm sure someone will tell me differently. I'd left my phone at home updating so Mrs Dave took the picture above.

Bloody Apple had sent me an email saying that I had to update my phone to continue getting updates for Twitter - which I have continued to use although I'm not obsessed by it! Unfortunately that means that my iPhone screen now looks totally different and all modern. Obviously I can't use it properly and spend all my time trying to find things that were a doddle before. Welcome to the future, one where you're never allowed to stay still.

Whilst walking along the tracks yesterday we looked back over the past few months and hoped we'd made the right choices. Both of us going down to three days a week has meant a huge cut in income but we feel that the benefits outweigh the 'benefit' of earning full salaries but at the beck and call of our paymasters. The slight distancing from the everyday at school has meant a healthier outlook and the opportunity to feel more in control. We can afford to wander these lanes without guilt - the piles of marking are much smaller! This last point is a huge bonus for me now that I have dropped English teaching completely.

So, yes, we reasoned, we have made the right choice and we look forward to retiring from the classroom come August - well, July really - and can wander these lanes without any guilt whatsoever. Our days can be enjoyed away from crowds and noise and listen more intently to Nature's voice as John Clare wrote.

Monday, 1 September 2014

time was

Telephone exchanges click while there's nobody there
The Martians could land in the car park and no one would care
Closed-circuit cameras in department stores
Shoot the same movie every day
And the stars of these films neither die nor get killed
Just survive constant action replay

And nothing ever happens, nothing happens at all
The needle returns to the start of the song
And we all sing along like before

There's nothing more likely to bring a wince than a cheesy synthesised organ sound or gated drums (fine on Kate Bush's Hounds of Love but think of practically anything by Phil Collins) or a clunky drum machine. Why? Because it reminds us of the eighties or nineties. I like Springsteen's Tunnel of Love album but the cheesy organ sound locks it in Time like the "freezers" from Christopher Priest's An Infinite Summer. It makes it slightly uncomfortable to listen to music that is heavily locked in Time, especially a time that you don't care for that much.

Whilst it may be obvious that certain records will bring back memories - good or bad - songs can be updated quite easily. My future son-in-law saw Richard Thompson for the first time recently and realised that he knew one of his songs (Beeswing) because one of his favourite bands have covered it. But to me, it's the lyrics that can sometimes be the jarring point. 

Whilst Robbie Robertson or RT himself may want to use archaic language or objects to evoke certain times, some writers use contemporary objects which may become totally alien to future audiences. For instance, a folk singer may want to sing The Old Changing Way that references Tinkers and fixing up "your kettles, please dear Missus, we'll sharpen your knives" and that sounds fine because it had already been designed to create a sense of time past. There are plenty of similar songs by RT - especially those on Henry the Human Fly and I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight* - that bring a sense of Thomas Hardy or A E Coppard. However, look at the lyrics by Justin Currie quoted above.

The lyrics come from the del Amitri song Nothing Ever Happens which records the general banality of everyday life (although the final line is a kick in the teeth to all of us in its reference to Kristallnacht). The song came up on my iPod the other day whilst I was driving along and the lyrics certainly lock it in Time as I mentioned above. There are various references in the song that are a snapshot of images that all seem to have happened in a life that is so different today, many younger listeners would not have a clue about. For instance, "Gentlemen time please, you know we can't serve any more" suggests those long-gone days of drinking up time and 10:30 closing times.

The lines above from the third verse mention that "telephone exchanges click" but they probably don't do that nowadays. The fourth verse does seem to keep fairly contemporary:

And bill hoardings advertise products that nobody needs
While "Angry from Manchester" writes to complain about
All the repeats on TV
Computer terminals report some gains in the values of copper and tin
While American businessmen snap up Van Goghs
For the price of a hospital wing

However, I guess not too many people write in to anyone to complain about "all the repeats on tv" given the choice of channels available now. If you want to watch endless repeats then there are stations like Dave that cater for that so it's easy to avoid them. Now we can all record programmes and not bother to watch them nowadays or only watch films and series by choosing Netflix, we can avoid advertising too to a certain extent. The implied letter writing is totally on the decline, too. That fact alone makes a mockery of the use of the letter form in English lessons and exams. Perhaps letter writing should now be the province of History lessons?

It's the chorus of Nothing Ever Happens where the song seems permanently frozen or locked into a particular time. Many youngsters would have absolutely no idea of what he's on about: "the needle returns to the start of the song and we all sing along like before". The song itself was first released in 1989 just as record players were being superseded by cds. So the action itself was almost already anachronistic. It's long been reported that many people nowadays don't pay for music, let alone buy it in any other form but digital.

But, interestingly, it appears that the sales of vinyl and turntables is on the rise. I read an article in the local press about how a second hand record shop is moving all its cds to the back of the shop and bringing all the vinyl forward. I also read somewhere of someone who had sold all of his vinyl years ago to replace his collection with cds only now to be selling them to fund re-buying it on vinyl! A few weeks ago I was in a record shop called Earwax Records in Williamsburg in Brooklyn who also told me that the bottom had fallen out of the market in cd sales about three years ago. Now they were selling mainly vinyl. That was good for me as the cd I wanted, Another Self Portrait by his Bobness, had been reduced. As the pound is quite strong, it only cost me about ten quid. Bargain.

Anyhow, so perhaps the act of a needle hitting the grooves of a vinyl record won't be so alien a concept to people in the future. I'm not sure whether or not modern turntables have the facility to leave the arm up for endless repeats like I used to do - John Martyn's One World was great for that. But somehow, the song still seems to be frozen in its time despite the acoustics and accordian as main instruments. Perhaps it's that video of them looking "all windswept and interesting" as Derek Brimstone used to say.

Right, I'm off to try to find out when the first usage of the mobile phones was in a song . . .

* Thankfully RT has recently started giving his albums shorter titles 

Sunday, 29 June 2014

tonight the bottle let me down

I've always had a bottle I could turn to
And lately I've been turnin' every day
But the wine don't take effect the way it used to
And I'm hurtin' in old familiar ways

I've been absent without leave recently. After several years trying to get the Welsh Board to let me mark A2 Film Studies exams, they've only gone and asked me totally out of the blue to mark the damned stuff! Blimey, I thought I wasn't up to standard. Or they're that desperate. You choose.

Anyway, whilst the World© has continued to revolve, I've continued to do what I do. Now, that generally seems to be: go in to work, teach a few lessons, mark exams, cook, drink slightly more than the (safe level) figures the government pulled out of their various orifices of the air and generally laze about pretending to be and er, fantasize about retirement. Anyway, all is well. I have too much to do now but can just about cope.

A pleasant trip to London last week allowed me to relax a bit although marking actual A Level work is slightly more daunting than AS. After the last trip, I realised that wine was too expensive to buy in the restaurant so I went next door to Sainsbury and bought a 50cl bottle of red in their sale for £2:40. Probably as good as the Hilton's plonk. Still, a good day.

It was great to realise that most of what I teach day-to-day is on the right track. I have some scripts of Centres that have taught Surrealism and Early Cinema so a learning curve awaits. I used to teach Surrealism on the old syllabus so it's not all new. It seems that Svankmajer's Alice is still a go-to film. If you're not aware of it, try it out.  If you fancy putting the absolute sh*ts up yourself, watch his Little Otik and try to keep smiling. I've silenced a few classes showing that!

Anyway, just touching base really - it's that time of year. Hopefully, next year will seem easier going as it looks like a three day week looms. Funny that a three day week was a problem all those years a go - now it seems like a preferred option.

Still, Robert Plant was great at Glastonbury -  a great set. Most of what I've seen has been very ordinary and showy - well done, Bob!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

rocket science

he's sitting back of the classroom
a million miles away
he's listening to the rock star on a cd
up front the old teacher
she's too tired to snag his mind
he's looking to the future, she's looking
way behind

Those 'messages in a bottle' suggest a few problems really, don't they?

As far as I know (and, indeed, what do I know?) a sailor of whichever Country/Empire/small fishing village off of an undiscovered island near the coast of Paraguay becoming stranded on a desert island - or indeed, a Hebridean one - many years ago managing to find a pencil and banana leaf/piece of paper would send a  message out for someone out there to find and, indeed, respond to. Imagine if a Robinson Crusoe type relied on someone finding his message. Or, imagine if we had personally found one. We would respond, of course, wouldn't we, gentle reader? We'd rally round and try to rescue the poor devil. Unless, of course, we had realised that we were at least 100 hundred years after the fact.

Anyway, my point here is that we would be able to read the aforesaid article. If we were able to at least recognise a word or two, we'd find an expert to decipher it.  All would be well.

Well, I have just spent the last three weeks marking AS Film Studies scripts and I can honestly say that it has proven to be the worst set of scripts I have EVER marked, and I've been marking for some twelve years*. I have had to spend hours deciphering poorly scribbled scripts. For my own sanity, I have realised that it is, of course, because students now write everything they do on iPads or laptops and never have to handwrite a damned thing. Oh, just one thing . . . the way they are examined and assessed is through . . .  wait for it . . . hand-written scripts. The lack of caring is what I find so disconcerting.

So, if we had found a message in a bottle, we'd assume that if we couldn't read it, it would be worth finding out what was written within. When we send out messages to outer space, we assume that an intelligent race would try to work out what might be being said. They, of course, may have a problem with Chuck Berry or Blur, but still, an effort would be made, and I hope that they'd earn a little more than £4.50 for their trouble.

* not this particular set, of course.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

7 + 7 is

So you want to be a rock and roll star?
Then listen now to what I say
Just get an electric guitar
Then take some time and learn how to play

For obvious reasons, I was a little obsessed with 12 string guitars last week. After sending mine off to the repair shop on Thursday, Friday Night's BBC4 documentary and "Acoustic at the BBC" programme struck a few chords*.

Roger McGuinn was shown performing an acoustic Eight Miles High during the latter programme and for some reason I couldn't quite figure out what was going on. He was playing a six string but it sounded like a twelve string. A closer shot at one point made me think that perhaps old Rog was playing with a slightly more enhanced instrument than the rest of us have to hand**.

It looked to me like he had an extra peg at the bridge end. Here's proof at the end of this post that I wasn't a few miles too high myself. At least some musicians spend some of their hard-earned cash back into their art.

I understand from various sources that Mr McGuinn can be a curmudgeonly old bugger - well, who isn't? - but I thought he comes across as a bit of a laugh. Some nice playing there, Mr M. Shame about the camera work.

  * pun intended
** count the innuendos

Monday, 12 May 2014

perfectly good guitar

There oughta be a law with no bail
Smash a guitar and you go to jail
With no chance for early parole
Ya don't get out until you get some soul

It's been an interesting few weeks. The move to the new build has not been without its problems. When the new build was initially proposed there was to be some £36 million set aside for it. By the time it finally got the go ahead, there was £18 million on the table. Shades of the Spinal Tap Stonehenge leap to mind.

Still, in other news . . . back in January I decided that it really was time to change the strings on my 12 string guitar. It has always been a daunting task. For a while it sounded fine. However, I often leave it hanging on the wall for weeks at a time as it's more of a luxury item than a serious tool. When I picked it up one evening last week to tune it and have a quick strum, it seemed a little harder to play than usual. I shrugged and went to put it back on its hanger.

Something about it didn't look right - I wasn't wearing glasses so needed to get a bit closer to it. Imagine my language surprise when I realised that the bridge had practically lifted off the soundboard. "Oh dear," I thought - or words to that effect. Although I was aware of the tension being more on a 12 string than a 6 string but it's always been fine. I guess the new strings I put on may have been to high a gauge for it. I'd put what was called a "light gauge" set on but hadn't realised that they were too heavy duty for the model I have.

Now, the guitar itself isn't particularly an expensive model so it's made of laminate rather than a solid top. There's no point having a broken guitar hanging around so I checked on the internet about how to fix it. I watched an excellent video on bridge repairs on 12 strings. Having instantly realised that my DIY skills, such as they are, are far too rudimentary for such an undertaking, I decided to check around for a local repair man. Even here in a small seaside town such craftsmen exist. In fact, a year or two back I had met one at a local festival. Still, being unable to remember his name or find his card, I noticed that the first one that came up on a Google search was an old colleague of mine. An ex-Maths teacher who left the teaching world after a few battles with a major illness.  I know his work is well thought of and he was around that evening to pick the poor beast up. This man makes guitars and violins. A guitar made by him would cost two thousand beer vouchers.

He had told me to whip the strings off and he'd be around within the hour. Indeed he was. That was Thursday, and he had phoned a few times over the weekend to let me know what he'd been doing to it. It seems that the bridge had been pulled forward - the rather out of focus snap just about shows how bad it was getting. The glue had moved and the whole thing could have justflown off - given all that tension, I'm rather glad I spotted it first! Anyway, he returned it tonight fully repaired and looking much healthier. It seems to have been a bit of a major undertaking to get it back into a decent shape.

What Dave did was to take off the bridge, get rid of as much glue as possible - the laminate was slightly damaged - glue and screw the bridge into place. Where he's drilled into the bridge he's put mother of pearl over the screw-holes. This has finished it off nicely. There's plenty on the guitar already so it doesn't look out of place. Then he's put REALLY light strings on and suggested that many people tune down a whole step to help reduce the stress. He's also diddled about with the truss-rod and set it up better. Unfortunately, as it's a cheapish guitar, he was unable to totally match the lacquer but it looks fine. My Fylde is covered in scratches and dents.We're all showing a bit of wear'n'tear after all this time.

Of course, all this has nearly  cost an arm and a leg. I thought I'd go with the leg. There aren't too many one-armed 12 string players about. Mind you, that does offer the opportunity for job sharing.

Still, he's done a good job and it does sound and play better now. I'll have to find a source for really light strings. Maybe I'll try tuning down. It's not the end of the world.  

Late at night at the end of the road
He wishes he still had that old guitar to hold
He'd rock it like a baby in his arms
Never let it come to any harm

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

days of future past

Many years have passed me by, it’s true
Many dreams have vanished from my view
I've chased them all
But there has been no answer
Though I recall
My innocence and laughter
I'm feeling older now
But what comes after this is through

Time had traced its maps across my face
Signs and lines for you to navigate
And in the end
There will be no returning
Let’s not pretend
No regrets and no yearnings
Could keep and fill your heart
If all you've got is what you do

I've spent much of the past few years bemoaning the fact that we've been let down. I have written elsewhere about the non-appearance of jetpacks - Dan Dare was promising them when I was a kid. James Bond used one in Thunderball in 1965.  The idea has been around for nearly a hundred years, possibly longer. And here we are in 2014 and those dreams of personal powered flight are in the news again. The future is here and now - Oh brave new world . . . and all that. At last.

Alongside that, as of today, our house is now connected to the internet by fibre optics. Er, well, in Britain, evidently, that means we are connected about 80% via fibre optics. It's still copper wire into our homes. Still, it's all very exciting and much quicker. A bit like life generally, then.

I spent last week in France up a mountain somewhere near Switzerland often listening to lots of well-informed ski aficionados discussing technical gear. They are all very knowledgeable and up-
to-date with the way the modern world has made skiing such a popular sport. I'm informed that it is a sport despite my genteel approach. I'm sure I didn't glaze over too often. What was interesting though was that although we couldn't always get decent connections to the internet, we could mostly keep in contact with the rest of the world: emails, the BBC and Twitter were still available to us via free (slow) wifi. Holidays no longer seem to be a time to get away from the everyday world that we, presumably are trying to get away from by having a holiday in the first place.  Still, the French continue to manage to avoid reality through their, er, sophisticated take on the everyday. Here are some urinals that children have to use as well as adults as they are the only loos on that part of the mountain. Charming.

One thing about travelling is that whilst we can now carry phones, whole music collections, iPads et al around with us to stay connected and wired for sound, we also have to carry the means to charge the damned things! The amount of chargers needed now takes up a big section of our baggage.

I had bought - for the first time in many, many years - for the journey, a copy of New Statesman (due to a lack of interesting magazines about guitars or walking) which was a special issue about technology and the future. There was an article by Bryan Appleyard that made a few good points and says that, like the need for nostalgia, we also have a hankering for the future:

At another level, futurology implies that we are unhappy in the present. Perhaps this is because the constant, enervating downpour of gadgets and the devices of the marketeers tell us that something better lies just around the next corner and, in our weakness, we believe. Or perhaps it was ever thus. In 1752, Dr Johnson mused that our obsession with the future may be an inevitable adjunct of the human mind. Like our attachment to the past, it is an expression of our inborn inability to live in – and be grateful for – the present.

I must admit that I have longed for the day when jetpacks would be available. Now those days seem to be here along with hand-held computers and - it would appear - cars that drive themselves imminent, perhaps there is a longing for those days when things didn't seem to change so much. I recently acquired a lovely old-fashioned acoustic autoharp. Don't get me started on the appalling waste and throwaway culture that has developed over recent years. The Academy I currently work at has just moved two schools onto one site ( a new build) where there is no room or the past. I've gained this product of the past - one that has been ignored for probably 30 years or so. And I really do mean "gained." This will need some TLC definitely: a project for those quieter, slower days of retirement ahead, I suppose. 

Still, whether there are better gadgets around the corner or not, some of these older ones are still worth using. At least I don't have to charge it.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

we could leave right now

I still don't know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild
A million dead-end streets
Every time I thought I'd got it made
It seemed the taste
was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I've never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I'm much too fast to take that test

Sometimes I think I've had a charmed life. I don't mean that in any glib way - there have been plenty of problems and hard time a-plenty, don't worry. Still, to get to this grand old age and feel that I could possibly make some major ch-ch-changes that could make things seem a little better suggests to me that, at least, there must be someone up there smiling down on me occasionally.  Mind you, it's probably the same smile I've witnessed over the years from students that pass me in the corridors. It's the beaky nose, isn't it?

Still, Life changes at certain points in our lives and this month we've reached one of those points.

Earlier this month we paid off our Mortgage and felt that we were able to start thinking about the future as a less frenetic and busy time. Okay, not quite retirement but an easing of responsibilities and less hours spent standing in classrooms wondering why I'd ended up as one of the teachers I used to torture with poor behaviour back in the early seventies. What goes around comes around, I suppose. Mind you, we were much more clever in those days - so much more subtle.

Ah well, this could all be for another time- perhaps when I've hours to spend thinking and writing. Retirement.  Not quite there but decisions have been reached. I'm going to try for three days a week next year and drop English teaching as much as possible. Perhaps there'll be plenty of time to experiment with writing and actually bothering to learn how to play one of those things that hang on my walls properly.


But suddenly, as of today, things are looking up.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

diamonds on the water

when you’re running on empty
and the road has no end
when you’re caught at the border
and no man is your friend
when you reach out for comfort
and there’s nothing but despair
there’ll be diamonds on the water
and music in the air

There was a slight mist that seemingly drifted up from the sea and hung about at the bottom of our road as we loaded up the car ready to drive off up to Snape this morning. The sun soon burned it off I guess but we were bombing along the A14, off onto the A12 and enjoying the countryside whilst all that was going on.

When we got to Snape Maltings dead on the BBC pips for 10 o'clock, we found that we were the first there. Still, after a few frantic phone calls eventually six of us were ambling along the Sailor's Path which connects Saxmundham with Aldeburgh. We were going for a gentle ramble by the river and across the marshes and along the sea front at Aldeburgh to sample the "best fish and chips in Britain".

Along the way we passed The Red House, which is where Benjamin Britten lived and evidently Jimi Hendrix visited as he wrote a song about it. That last bit might not be quite true. Anyway, we came upon it as a bit of a surprise - I'd been reading about it a week or so ago and here it was. The signs around it were written in Greek, German and French. The signs all suggested we should "Beware of the Dog" but it all seemed quite quiet.  And we wandered on. The size of houses in this area reminded me that no matter how much access we have to wander this green and pleasant land, most of it is still in private hands:

From the men of property
The orders came
They sent the hired men and troopers
To wipe out the Diggers' claim
Tear down their cottages
Destroy their corn
They were dispersed
But still the vision lingers on

Anyway, following in the footsteps of greatness, we continued the way Jimi did in his search for the "Best Fish and Chips in Britain©" and we quickly found our way to the beach at Aldeburgh where Fag-Ash Lil Hambling's great masterwork is on show for all. I don't know much about Art but I know what I couldn't care less about. But we had bigger fish to fry and a pint or two in The White Hart whilst waiting for the queue to die down in the next door Fish and Chip shop beckoned. Yes, that's the "Best Fish and Chip Shop in Britain©". And, guess what, the fish and chips were wonderful. I hope Jimi enjoyed them and gave him some comfort after realising that his key no longer fitted the lock at Ben's place.

On the whole, then, a pleasant albeit brief yomp across some of the best of Suffolk's landscape with some great weather. We came across those rare Polish Konik horses that
it seemed necessary to be introduced into Suffolk but nobody knows why. It just seemed like a good idea, I guess. Evidently you're not supposed to go near them but as they were standing idly around in a field next to the path we had to go quite near to them. They seemed to enjoy being stroked and someone tried to force-feed one some grass they'd ripped out of the ground but it's all right, the horses weren't interested - obviously they haven't bothered to learn English whilst in the UK. No comment. Anyway, whilst wandering along there were certainly diamonds on the water and, from an early skylark, music in the air.

Which brings me to a brief point about how easy it is to please one such as I. Last night I went to see the Oysterband at Colchester Arts Theatre promoting their new album, Diamonds On The Water after watching a fabulous sunset (Damn! I'd left my phone at home) and then today we walked across a familiar landscape that was making the first forays into Spring.

And who knows what tomorrow may bring? The first proper - but early - day of spring according to the BBC. Oh yeah, decorating the bathroom . . .