July 2017

Wide Tough Mudder

July in Sheffield – means only one thing really:

TRAMLINES!

I know, there are plenty of other things going on in the city but, for thousands of music lovers and almost as many performers, most of July is spent preparing for the festival and then recovering from it.

It grew from an idea by Matt Helders (The Arctic Monkeys’ drummer) The Reverend (Jon McClure – Singer of Reverend and The Makers) and Toddla T (Thomas Mackenzie Bell – Sheffield producer, composer, and engineer who is married to Annie Mac). The first festival was held in 2009 and was a free festival. And it continued to be free until 2013 when a charge was introduced. Six pounds for the first year.

I have never bought a ticket; not just because I’m mean, though that is part of it, but because there is quite enough going on without a ticket. Okay, you get to see some big acts: The Libertines, Toots and the Maytals, Primal Scream… and that’s just this year. But there is another side to the festival. A side that’s not too well publicised but is very much alive and is certainly kicking.

The Fringe.

All local bands and acts, all performing in dozens of venues, pubs and clubs and cafes all around the city. And it’s this part of the festival that I immerse myself in each year. I can honestly say, without bias, that the talent on show on the fringe equals and often exceeds that of the main stages. It’s not a surprise that I identify with these guys: thousands of pounds of equipment hauled around the city by friends and family; organisation on a staggering level as everything remains fluid for the entire weekend.

DSC_0246 copyI concentrated on mainly one venue this year: The Crucible Corner. Never before involved in the festival but this year organised wholly by the part-time but dedicated staff that work there. All the equipment was supplied by them (in no small part by my son who did all the sound and performed a few times in various guises). It was a terrific effort and, although I went to other venues, I kept coming back to ‘The Corner’ and seeing yet another astonishingly talented young person. Here you can see Jack Chapman performing songs from his new EP Heal This Way. Jack is a singer songwriter but decided to introduce his songs to the public by way of a full band. This was the first time a band of this size has performed inside the ‘Rotunda’, the glass dining area of The Crucible Corner.

Another regular at ‘The Rotunda Sessions’ (every other Monday night open Mic) isDSC_0784 copy Harrison Rimmer. A bundle of energy, entertainment and talent. Harrison’s set had the audience singing along, shouting and gasping. His table top performance is a must see. The sets for the open mic nights are three songs and off; for Tramlines it was a forty five minute set. This guy held the audience, entertained the audience for three quarters of an hour. Just a small guy with a guitar and enough energy to light the streets of the city. If you get a chance to see Harrison then don’t pass it by. You won’t regret it. Harrison also has an EP out.

Like I say, there are plenty of people filling The Ponderosa and Devonshire Green and The Peace Gardens. The outside, ticketed event was in full swing but we kept ourselves to the fringe venues (which are strangely played down on the festival’s official site; no idea why). We dipped into Crystal to see Bayonet and then popped into Record Junkee to catch another set from Mr Chapman.

DSC_0136 copyIn between Crystal and Record Junkee we nipped back to The Crucible Corner for a sneaky pint and had the pleasure of watching this guy: Jack Weston. A powerful guy with a powerful voice who plays guitar without taking any prisoners. Yet despite all that power he has a voice of an angel (I’m sure he won’t mind me saying so). Jack plays under the name Kid Conventional and has a fabulous EP out called ‘I Will Never be an Astronaut’. Great single off a great EP. He also played down at Endcliffe Park at The Folk Forest as part of Sheffield’s Sgt Pepper Project. We were gutted we couldn’t make that but heard that it was something else.

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Sophie Simonds gave us a treat on Friday night. She opened the Rotunda Tramlines Sessions and didn’t disappoint. Apart from amazing vocals and backing, Sophie also plays the Sax. Word had spread that the Corner was involved this year and the turnout started good, giving Sophie a great audience, and built over the weekend to an incredible size. I have never seen so many people in The Crucible Corner before.

DSC_0533 copyCan’t leave it without mentioning these two guys either: Deaf Crows. I’m ridiculously biased because it’s my good friend Jack Chapman on guitar/bass and my son Aeddan on drums. A two piece rock/blues band that has an awesome reputation around the city. One of the most popular bands around always being asked to play. Not without reason either. They have a set that comprises some amazing songs of their own: South China Sea; Bones; Ruby Reds plus a few covers from bands as diverse as Fleetwood Mac (the old one) to Dead Weather. If you get the opportunity to see these guys then don’t pass it by. They’re at The Frog and Parrot on Thursday 3rd August.

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Another great treat came from Harriet Rose Grant. Harriet’s been writing, playing and singing for a few years now. I saw her for the first time at The Greystones in The Backroom supporting Nick Harper. Quite an impressive start. Harriet has a great voice and her songs are hauntingly delicious. She sings from the heart and had the audience in her palm for the entire set. Coincidently, she’s playing at the same gig as Deaf Crows on 3rd August. So, if you’re free, get yourself down to The Frog and Parrot for a gorgeous bit of chillin’ with Harriet followed by an audio onslaught from the Deaf Crows boys.

In all, over the two and a half days of the festival, thirty bands played at The Rotunda Tramlines Sessions. That’s thirty amazingly talented people or bands in just that one venue. A few more of them listed below:

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Oragin

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A big thanks to everyone concerned for giving me, my family and my friends an amazing weekend of memories.

But there’s more to it. I spent this blog talking about Tramlines instead of my own writing for a good reason. There is a link here that joins all makers of art. Musicians, Painters, Sculptors, Writers, all of us. And the fact that these thirty acts all contributed to a fringe event. Their time, their effort, their talent. And all that merchandise that they have, Albums and EPs and singles, they are all the product of hundreds of hours of work. And the ability to produce that stuff comes from thousands of hours of honing those skills to the point where products of that quality can be produced. Not just cassette tapes of yourself in the bedroom or (in my case) a pile of notebooks with scribbled down disorganised ideas. These are fully formed pieces of art. They contain our DNA.

With reference to my own endeavours with fiction, without wanting to be too negative about all this, I’m still emulating that poor old bugger, Sisyphus (a great track on Kid Conventional’s EP). There are a lot of writers out there all trying to attract the attention of not many publishers and agents. Add to that the subjective nature of all art and the obvious fact that you have to find ‘the right person on the right day who is in the right frame of mind’ and you can see how fraught this whole process can become. This is true of all those acts. Every one of them has a dream. Some are philosophical about it, some are simply driven and some will, inevitably, fall victim to disappointment and, in a few sad cases, might become quite ill. It’s not an endeavour to be taken lightly or written off as a ‘nice hobby’.

Having watched and listened to the music over these three days I came to realise something else: that, despite the vast music collection I have at home, on vinyl, CD, DVD, Blu-Ray, MP3 etc, I could actually survive quite easily on the music supplied by those thirty individuals and bands that performed in that one venue over that one weekend. The corporate business of music doesn’t have us by the throat; we can all make our own art just as good and often much better.

We are all richer than we realise.

 

A big thank you to Alex at CXG Media for all the photos and also for his amazing commitment to the weekend at Rotunda Sessions does Tramlines.

June 2017

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The photo above was taken from Park Güell above Barcelona. I had to go up on tip-toe to see over a wall, hence the rather poor result, however, everything that exists in the city can be seen here (I’m sure I could have found a better location to take the photo but it was around forty degrees centigrade). I missed the park last time I visited so we made a special effort to get there. Not sure that it was worth the entrance fee (it was free last time), although €4.90 hardly breaks the bank. However, all things Gaudi are worth seeing and this is no exception. It is rather small though and the climb to get there nearly finished us off (the bus was recommended which we scorned).

Having spent a week traipsing around this amazing city something occurred to me: the number of different cultures on display is staggering. There are so many people in our own country that maintain that foreign culture somehow waters down that of our own and yet, there is no sign of that kind of attitude in Barcelona. Quite the opposite. In fact, we found ourselves in the midst of a huge and very vocal demonstration that was aimed against tourists. Us. I was surrounded by people wearing shirts that read ‘Tourists Go Home!’ It was written in English so I guess they were referring to me as I pushed my way through their ranks in my bright shorts and vest holding my Sony HX60 aloft.

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The thing is, there appears to be zero hostility towards the vast immigrant population that exists there. Okay, I’m not Spanish and don’t have Facebook friends in Spain that can give me a flavour of the mood on the street (right is an example of flavour on the street) but it just feels very peaceful. The crowd of protesters that I bumbled into even averted their faces away from me to avoid unnecessary confrontation (or to avoid the temptation of punching me in the mouth). I did meet a Spanish friend who lives there and he explained the protest: it is more about tourism slowing creeping into the residential areas of the city and the rise in airbnb. They don’t object to tourism per se, they just want to keep their own residential areas as places separate from the hedonism that often accompanies tourists abroad (I’ll refrain from labelling the English but they rarely make me proud). This doesn’t seem at all unreasonable and nothing like the rampant racism that our right-wing press tries to foment over here.

And, speaking of tolerance, I’ve just watched Jeremy Corbyn deliver a speech full of tolerance and love to the Glastonbury audience. Now, regardless of your politics, can anybody remember a time when a politician got rapturous applause from a music festival. Okay, Nelson Mandela, but he’s the only one. DSC02660

And just for balance, for any Tories that might be reading this (ha ha ha) here is a beautiful blue room. This is also from Park Guell and I don’t remember seeing as vivid a blue since I saw a Dali in the flesh at the Tate. It almost hurt your eyes to look at it and created a wonderful sense of calm and peace. It does make you wonder why, therefore, that right-wing politics adopted this colour to represent their party. You’d think they’d be more attracted to a colour that represented danger. Red…. Oh dear.

But seriously, I couldn’t help but be swept up by Jeremy’s rhetoric (maybe because I grew up in the seventies and we actually thought peace was on the cards then – or complete nuclear annihilation). And call me naive if you like but the idea that young people have become fired up enough to care and chant and even vote, it has to be a sign that the old order is finally in its death throes, doesn’t it? I hope that this movement in mood for the young, this political awakening, grows and thrives. People our age shouldn’t be making decisions about the world; half of us can barely see or remember what day it is. Bring on the youth. I like them, anyway.

DSC02528While on the subject of music, I was loitering around the back (or is it the front? Hard to tell – the fancy bit) of the Sagrada Familia, I noticed that one of the heavenly host was playing a bassoon. Anachronism is one of my favourite things. I do a lot of shakespeare acting (well, one a year) and I have yet to convince a director to allow an iPad of iPhone to creep into the otherwise traditional production. Just to piss off those who think everything is precious and to seriously amuse those who don’t. It’s an argument that I lost on a regular basis. Most – most, not all – tutors and lecturers insisted that absolutely everything had meaning and shouldn’t, even couldn’t, be changed. This is patently absurd to me and I would suggest that it’s patently absurd to any other writers out there. Yes, of course I would prefer that people think that everything I write has deep and carefully thought out meaning, but it doesn’t, some of it is shite. A lot of it is shite. It’s there to amuse, hopefully, or annoy or provoke. But that’s all it is. And I don’t think that just because something was written by some bloke in the sixteenth and seventeenth century makes that any different.

GinWhenever I go away I always try to bring something back. It doesn’t have to be that special or even relevant to the place that I’ve been. However, this time I managed to bring back something that is both special and relevant. At the risk of promoting alcohol abuse, I thought I would share this refreshing little picture. Not only does it make me smile but it also made my wallet smile. Less than €9 a bottle. I sounded like the milkman doing his round as I climbed the steps to the plane. Interestingly, bottled water was going for around €4 for a 500ml bottle. That makes it virtually the same price as gin. Perhaps when our brave new world starts we might have a return to something along the lines of a pricing policy. Remember the days when it was illegal to utterly rip people off simply because they are a captive audience? No? It did happen. And I know there were problems associated with that, mainly economic ones that I’m too thick to follow (or too easily bored) but it did create a fairer society in some respects; although I doubt it would have much impact on the price of water in Barcelona airport.

 

May 2017

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I’m fairly new to this blogging malarkey and, I have to say, I’m only just beginning to understand what it’s all about. At first, I thought, as a writer, I should be blogging about writing; then I thought that I should be blogging about my own writing, after which, I thought perhaps it should be all about the way other people might or should or could write…

I’ve realised now: I can write about whatever the hell I like.

It’s my blog. It’s not a novel of mine that you’ve bought on Kindle or a short story that I’m reading out to you in a Sheffield pub. It’s just my blog, for me, and the audience is whoever bothers to click on the link to this space and I cannot and need not shape or style my writing to your needs. I couldn’t anyway; I don’t have a clue who you are.

I’ve also taken a liberty with the banner photo. Up until now all photos have been taken by me in the month of the blog entry. Although I did take the one above, it’s not from this month (sadly) but this is my favourite place in the world (so far) so I’ve put it here to please only myself. This, of course, could be the slippery slope that leads to onanism – pun intended.

So… May!dough bum

Here’s a picture of some bread dough that looks like a big white arse. This was made and photographed in May so my transgression is only partial. It’s made from unbleached white bread flour, salt, fresh yeast and water. No fat. It doesn’t need fat regardless of what your cookery books might tell you. You don’t have to knead either, unless you’re entering a competition where the consistency of crumb will be measured by micrometer. Cookery books are written by people who want to make what is one the simplest things in the world (cooking) as complicated as possible in order to massage their own sense of self-importance. Don’t let them get away with it. I’m not saying don’t buy cookery books, you should buy them (or borrow them) because they are a useful set of ideas but, rather than follow them to the letter of the law, treat them like a Shakespeare play: as a set of vague instructions that hint towards a way of creating something of wonder and beauty.

Apparently, I had something to get off my chest. That seems a perfectly good use for this site and, if you don’t like it, then there is a useful facility for having a go back at me. You just click on something somewhere on here and then start typing. And before someone bangs on about fat allowing bread to be kept for longer – try making some and keeping it for more than ten minutes. You won’t be able to. Homemade is delicious and moreish.

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And here is a selection of massive courgettes that I grew last year. I forgot to include an item on the table to give a sense of scale but, the table is three feet (900mm) in diameter thus rendering the vegetables virtually inedible. This happens every year around about the second week in August when we attend Cropredy folk festival and we forget to check the vegetable plot a few days before leaving and then for a further few days after arriving back home. Despite the fact that they are like large, green table legs stuffed with cotton wool, there is a degree of delight to be drawn from growing something so awesome. If memory serves, a good friend took these off our hands and juiced them.

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On a different subject, here is our newly converted garage. The plan was to have it as an exercise / yoga area or somewhere to sit with friends and have a drink. It is an extension of the kitchen which has given us much more space and we thought that perhaps it could even be somewhere to eat. We have a huge beechwood table that would fit nicely here with some beechwood chairs to match. Seemed as though our options were pretty much that we could do anything we wanted. However, that’s not quite how it worked out as it is now a space for recording drums. The acoustics are amazing but we could have hired recording space in the city for about ten years for the same financial outlay.

But, you know, what’s wrong with changing things around a bit? Okay, we had our own ideas but we never thought we’d be sharing living quarters with a recording facility. It’s pretty cool to be honest and, half an hour beating this baby uses far more calories than half an hour of the Cobbler’s Pose. And, if we combine our idea of drinking with the drumming, the result is very satisfying. My drum skills are extraordinary after a few gins and ciders.

I would be remiss of me to go without mentioning the utterly amazing experience of being one of the cast in Clumber Players’ ‘Much Ado About Nothing’2017_MuchAdoAboutNothing

I do a bit of classical theatre most years, usually Shakespeare. This year’s has been particularly memorable due to a stellar cast and director. I don’t think I have ever worked with a bunch of people who are as near to professional standard as these guys were. In fact, beyond professional, I’ve seen far worse in The Crucible. The feedback from audiences over the four nights has been amazing. We knew we’d got a good one on our hands but we exceeded even our own expectations. I got to play the bad Borachio and my son absolutely nailed Don Pedro. In 2013, when we moved from performing outside in Clumber Park to the inside of Thoresby Riding Hall, I warned everyone that we would have to seriously up our game. Performing out in the sunshine to people who have spent the day sunbathing, walking around the lake and drinking wine is completely different to performing in an indoor environment. The expectations of the audience are just so much higher. I think we attained that level this year and have set the bar extremely high for any future productions.

An absolute highlight of my acting experience and I can only thank the rest of the cast and production team for their inspirational efforts. It’s going to be a hard one to follow.

April 2017

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It’s the cruellest month, you know?

I do sort of get the first line of the poem though: the onset of all things good puts all your misery and pain in stark relief. Or something along those lines. Although relief is probably a poor choice of word. Nevertheless, no matter what crap I’m currently having to deal with, a bit of sunshine and colour lifts me more than I can begin to explain.

I’m not going to talk about the weather.

My turning over a new leaf, getting fit and focusing on what matters most has got off to some sort of start. A major success has been that the running shoes are not only out but have put in a respectable number of kilometres. Settling down and editing my last completed novel hasn’t been quite so successful. I was concerned about distraction and since then have started two new projects. That wasn’t the plan. Nevertheless, the new projects are closely linked with the subject of my novel: alienation from society and homelessness. As I went about my daily twenty minute walk from where I park to where I work, I reflected on this. Maybe the new stuff isn’t a distraction but more of a continuation. Maybe it’s the same piece of work. Maybe I’m writing around the subject and giving myself a deeper understanding of it.

Procrastination works, folks!

Google Birthday This threw me for a second. I logged on at work and was presented with this happy little gif. My smile faded as it occurred to me that my computer knows more about me than most of the people I work with. All that talk recently of being snooped upon by governments and corporations and how someone can steal your babies and all your money simply by hacking into your toaster. I know it sold a few Daily Mails and Expresses but I presumed that most people with half a brain dismissed it for the utter tosh that it is. And there I was, looking over my shoulder.

By the time I’d got a few milligrams of Taylor’s caffeine in my system I remembered that my first job when I get into work is to log into my personal email – Gmail. Mystery solved. I might write the odd crime novel but it occurs to me that perhaps I should leave the whodunits to those who are probably more qualified. Maybe it’s my age?

It does raise the issue privacy though. Not something I think about a lot. As a writer, I am constantly exposing and revealing my thoughts and feelings and political leanings, whether I mean to or not. My social media sites are all pretty much open to anyone who wants to take a peek. I find it easier to assume that everything I type is public. Not all my friends do though. I have seen things written on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc. that I know is not intended to be public knowledge. The whole ‘who you share with’ and ‘what their settings are’ is just too complicated to nail down (unless you’re prepared to put in the time and effort, which I’m not). And we are all aware of instances where people have been pilloried in the press for their views or even found themselves on the wrong side of the law. We all have the ability to publish now but very few of us have even an inkling what should and should not be put out there. Posting racist, threatening, libel comments on Facebook are simply not the same as slurring some alcohol-induced drivel to your mate in The Queen’s Head. Not that I ever do that – I do it in the tennis club.

And thinking about all that nonsense got me onto the idea of misinformation and fake news. Fake news seems to be in the news quite a lot just lately (or does it?). Everyone’s going on about how we can’t trust what we’re told by politicians and we can’t trust what we read in the press or what we see and hear on TV and radio. And people are banging on about all this as though it’s something new. But it’s not, is it?

Think back over the years: Pregnant women were encouraged to drink alcohol and smoke, the belief in the four humors, phrenology, the eye beam, flat earth, the fake moon landing, the Piltdown man…

It goes on and on. And then there is similar political nonsense such as unions are bad for business (take a look at the German system where unions are respected by all), the number of wars that we have been fooled into supporting. Weapons of Mass Destruction jog any memories? Hitler’s vile assertion that Jews ritually killed Christian children and used their blood in the making of unleavened bread for Passover. It occurs to me that we are in the process of being subjected, once again, to a version of Hitler’s ‘Big Lie’. The idea that the bigger the lie, as long as it is repeated often enough, people will begin to believe in it. Here in Britain (and it seems in America, too) we are slowly being manipulated into a common hatred for ‘the other’.

At the risk of offending, the result of last June’s referendum appeared to be swayed by the insistence that foreigners are the cause of all our ills. I’ve met many people who insist that leaving the EU is the only way to beat ISIS. You couldn’t make it up, could you? And the idea that someone from a foreign country with no English can take your job away from you is a pretty foolish thing to believe, unless you suffer from seriously low self-esteem. We are being told, constantly, by our ultra right-wing press that we are in danger of being completely swamped by Johnny Foreigner. A few years ago I would have insisted that we are now too educated, too informed, too sophisticated to be victims of mass hysterical manipulation. No one is more surprised than me.

I don’t really think fake news is a new thing at all. I think it’s a bit like child abuse, we’ve only just noticed it. But what does puzzle me is, the people who have consistently benefitted from fake news, the establishment for want of a better phrase, were the people who drew our attention to it in the first place. Maybe they’re not as bright as they think.

See you in May.

 

March 2017

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It’s all about motivation this month. Or rather, the lack of it. Hard to put your finger on what drives activity but, once the momentum begins to flag, there’s only one way to go:

Down.

But that’s not where it has to end. The winter months have a negative effect on me and I know I’ve moaned about it on here to the point of monotony. However, I’m bright enough to know that it’s more down to what’s going on in my head than the actual weather. I have to deal with that, which is why I took a trip to Mars (Photo above as proof). When things aren’t going too well the pot needs stirring. A change of scenery, a new task, a good long run (I’m still working on that one). Distractions take your mind away from the all too familiar set of problems that you are currently wrestling with but, at some point, they have to be faced.

A completed novel that’s gone through an MA that I’m still not happy with. It’s like Pooh’s cloud that follows him around. And a new novel, several chapters written, characters that buzz, a story that excites me and a theme that I’m passionate about. So, why can’t I get on with that either? It’s at times like this that I think maybe starting another project is the right answer. But that’s not true. What is required is fresh eyes to look at old shit.

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As well as not writing enough I also (as I mentioned above) am not doing enough exercise. As a result, I am much bigger and heavier than I am happy with. There is only one solution: exercise and diet. I’ve started cutting down on excessive food intake (much easier with the sun shining) and the running will follow. It has to. In the meantime, a change of perspective. Look at yourself in a different light. I’ve done that and quite like the result. All I have to do now is don my trusty trainers and make the illusion a reality. How hard can that be?

Other writers are brilliant for motivation. Chatting to fellow Alumni make me want to break open the laptop and start typing. Listening to a successful writer (no, I am not about to define what one of those is) can have the same effect. I spent an hour and a half, with about twenty other people, in the company of A. L. Kennedy. From the moment she said, ‘Of course, my real name’s Alison.’ I knew I was going to be inspired. Someone who, in my eyes at least, is of huge stature in the writing world took the time to show us just how normal she was and just how pissed off she was at all the niggling little ball-aching problems associated with making shit up in your head and transferring it to paper. We were all as one for that ninety minutes. There was absolutely no excuse to not go home and immediately write something amazing.

One of the main things that many of us noticed with our new friend, Alison, was the level of energy that seemed to flow through and out of her. It was like she’d been fitted with new batteries. And it’s easy to think, ‘Oh, I wish I could be like that.’ But the only reason that she and many other people seem to exude that vitality is that they are fully engaged. Fully and absolutely engaged in what they’re doing and what they’re talking about. And, of course, success can give you that energy but it’s not the only way to acquire it. On the many occasions when I read out short pieces to an audience I have always walked off the stage wondering why the hell I don’t do that every day.

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So, that’s the answer, I guess: get off your arse and get some work done. The downward spiral is always there and is always the easiest route (it being downward!) and hauling yourself upright and getting on with the important shit might take a little bit of effort but, in the long term, will make you feel so much better. Lethargy breeds tiredness, activity breeds energy. There’s no doubt about that. There is no finer feeling that sitting on the bed relaxing with a nice cup of tea after a five mile run. Not only have you earned the rest but you can wallow in the feeling of being utterly noble. And now here’s a couple of cocktails to cheer everyone up.

So, where did I put those trainers?

February 2017

The second of the darkest months. I usually start to get fed up around November, knowing that light will be leaving us for some time (god knows how they manage in the proper north) and I always feel as though a corner has turned once we hit new year. I forget that the next two months can be the hardest. But we’ve been lucky. Grey and miserable, maybe, and damp, but none of that white stuff. And now we’ve hit February, I know everything will slowly get better. Especially now I’ve spotted these little beauties:

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There’s something about them, isn’t there? The photograph was taken at an auction room in Gloucester on the last day of January. It was raining, a little cold, we were trying to kill time and feeling quite sorry for ourselves when, there they were. I got a great shot of a tree-full of white doves, too, but that’s out of focus so they are unlikely to make an appearance unless I start blogging while drunk. Maybe not a bad idea…

I’ve never really spent much time in Gloucester. There were four of us and we wanted to make it a memorable visit.

That’s where I came across this: one of those writing prompts that you so often see online suggesting that it might be something that will inspire you to write your first masterpiece.

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I just thought it said more about Gloucester night life than providing literary musings. It did strike me as odd though. Perhaps it should be shown in context:

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I mean, why would someone leave it there? It’s not even a pair. And it does seem somehow to have been ‘placed’. I thought about jumping down and moving it onto the paler boards where it would have looked a lot more striking but then I was already quite a way behind my friends. Then, as I stood staring at it, I was suddenly and inexplicably reminded of Theresa May and my day was ruined. Unless she’d stood there, toppled and fallen into the canal, leaving just one sad shoe to remind us of her, I couldn’t think of a way to cheer myself up. So I ran after my friends, said nothing about my new, emerging fetish and followed them into a pub. Political misery was temporarily avoided.

We trudged on to Gloucester cathedral which blew us away. None of us hold any strong religious views but me and my best mate are drawn to churches wherever we are in the world. There’s something about them: the grandeur perhaps or the silence or the atmosphere. I can’t put my finger on it. Gloucester cathedral did not disappoint.

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There was building work going on outside and archeologists were taking advantage of the opportunity to sift, photograph and record lots of stuff beneath an area that they would have struggled to get permission to access. I have a secret desire (not so secret now) to get involved with archeology but I can imagine how time consuming it would be. No idea where I picked up the bug; maybe time-team but certainly not from Tony Robinson. I only liked it when the experts told you stuff. I found his prancing about mildly irritating. The price you pay for getting a decent programme on the TV I guess.

Inside was another surprise: the cloisters (famous for their earliest vaulted ceiling and the filming of two Harry Potter films) were jammed with art. All from one guy: Russell Haines. The subject of the pieces was faith. Each picture was a portrait of a different person from all the faiths of the world. The paintings were staggering. I didn’t take any photos but some can be seen on his website Russell Haines and I can’t recommend a visit more highly. We were ready to go back to our cottage and thought we’d take a quick look. We were there for ages. A staggering volume of work and about as moving as you can get. Especially in this time of intolerance and nationalistic fuckery that we’re currently witnessing.

Having been told that a visit to Gloucester isn’t worth the effort, I’m very glad that we made it. See you in March.

January 2016

Yes, January 2016.

No, there isn’t one missing. The last Blog was November.

So, what happened to December?

November – November happened to December. Or rather, November happened so December didn’t. It had been a bad year on many levels but November topped it off. Or rather, Trump topped it off. In fact, I’m officially blaming him for my not achieving NaNoWriMo. Okay, I admit, it wasn’t going that well but November 9th just sucked all the joy out of me. It snowed in Sheffield on that morning which made it feel as though we’d woken to a nuclear winter. Everything I wrote, for days, descended into vitriol. I suppose I could have used it as part of my word count but that’s not really how it’s supposed to work, is it? It all resides in a folder in my Documents entitled Bile & Anger. And that folder was pretty full already.

I will hold my own NaNoWriMo at a later date. And, in all honesty, the Mo might well be plural.

bin

So, here’s a rather satisfying view of my old bin. I always think that, when times are challenging, it’s best to surround yourself with familiar and comfortable objects. I would have used a picture of a glass of gin and tonic in the sunshine but I couldn’t find one. I’m sure there is one somewhere. Maybe for  a different month. Anyway, onward and upwards.

We should have known something was amiss when we lost Bowie in January. I know how ridiculous that sounds but it had a real sense of unreality to it. By the end of June there could be no doubt that we were in a downward spiral. Britain’s vote to Exit the European Union. (I refuse to use the ridiculous portmanteau that our stupid media forced on us.) Now, I don’t intend arguing the point one way or another here, though I have to hold up by hand as one who voted to remain. But… and it’s a big but, months before, when we knew it was going to happen, I couldn’t figure out quite why the general population would be given a say in something so complex and so entwined in… well, in everything. I’m of average intelligence but there was no way on earth that I could ever understand the pros and cons of the situation. They must have a plan, I thought.

And I guess they did. But it didn’t work. For a start, the most unpopular prime minister since Maggie was leading the remain side and a bunch of Muppets were leading the Leave campaign. I can see why Dodgy Dave was so stupidly confident. He didn’t think for a minute that the population would believe the most elite of all elite members of our society. But he was wrong. He fucked it up. He tried to save his own skin, blindly confident in his own beliefs, and he fucked it up.

I still don’t know if staying in would have been economically better than leaving and I suspect that no-one does even now. But what I do know is that the vast majority of people I’ve met who voted to leave did so because they don’t like brown people. Sad but true. And the brown people don’t even come from Europe.

chipmunk

This is one of the nicest meetings I’ve had this year. Apparently, this little feller is unwelcome in the land he lives. There are signs everywhere warning people not to feed him or his kind with threats of fines and whippings. I watched him for quite a while and he was just going about his business, trying to live his life. He isn’t there to hurt anyone. He has no hidden agenda. And he made quite a pleasing little squeaking sound as he jumped from rock to rock. As far as I’m concerned, he’s very welcome. But then I’m a liberal leftie, so I would, wouldn’t I?

And then there was Trump. I’ve heard it said that the very same mechanism that delivered the leave vote also delivered the Trump win. People voting against the system. And I get that: voting against the system. I’m all for anarchy. But these twats are the system. Trump (named after a fart) and Farage (named after the stinking, insignificant sludge found at the bottom of a wheelie bin or an alternate spelling for the Malaysian word for vagina, faraj). Voting for these isn’t voting against the system, it’s voting for it, they couldn’t be more elitist.

Someone on the radio summed up the protest vote quite nicely. I can’t remember who it was so can’t credit them. If it comes to me then I’ll edit this. It wasn’t me. But they said, ‘Who, in their right mind, protests the rising petrol prices by divorcing their wife?’

door

Here’s a door that probably leads somewhere. I found it on a walk and I could have just bust my way in and dealt with whatever horror lay on the other side. I didn’t do that though. Call me unadventurous if you like but I prefer to stick with what I know unless the alternative is completely and utterly and overwhelmingly seductive. Or maybe if I’m drunk, or have taken the wrong drugs, or maybe if I completely lose my mind.

The deaths keep piling up. Someone tried to convince me that 2016 hasn’t been extraordinary as regards significant deaths (as opposed to insignificant deaths; those little fuckers are just irritating, aren’t they?) but I don’t buy it. The latest few: Carl Palmer; George Michael; Carrie Fisher; Liz Smith; Rick Parfitt… it adds up to a year that seems to have lost a great deal of our past, our childhood. And I know that many people find the mourning of celebrity death somewhat distasteful but I think my reference to our past stands as good reason to be sad. Palmer and Parfitt and Lemmy are very much a part of my childhood, as Bowie was part of my adolescence and Prince marked my steps into adult life. Each of these people have an individual memory attached to them that is precious to me and other people have similar experiences. No-one has the right to undermine that, regardless of how qualified in cynicism they are.

Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, Caroline Ahern, Victoria Wood, Ali… they are people who have been around us for years. I get that there are people all over the world that are suffering and deserve our sympathy more but that’s missing the point: we’re not feeling sorry, per se, for the victims, we’re feeling sorry for ourselves (something my nan always told me I shouldn’t do but hey ho). So, in a sense, there is an insignificance to their deaths in as much as our lives are not changed by them. But it’s like losing a favourite book or old vinyl album. Sure, you can download another and listen to it fresh but, you know? There is something comforting in the knowledge that familiar things are still out there, still around us. And these guys are not around us anymore. They’re on tape or DVD or CD or hard-drive or flash-drive but they’re no longer physically out there. And that’s why we miss them. We miss our loved ones, though we still have pictures of them. And, unless your family is significantly different to most families I know, some of our so-called loved ones will be missed far less than our heroes.

November was a month that started with huge disappointment and ended with personal tragedy (which I’m not going into on here) and I was hoping that December would see an improvement. Well, that hasn’t been the case so, I guess we’re going to have to rely on that tired old cliche of January being a fresh start. That always works, doesn’t it?

Happy New Year Everyone.

Let’s stay positive.