November 2017

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I have developed a rather unusual motivation problem. writers-block-PeanutsAnyone who has ever had a serious go at writing will be familiar with the writer’s block/can’t be arsed/it’s too damned hard syndrome (all of which are nonsense, in my ever so humble opinion) but that’s not what’s bothering me. Staring at a blank page lasts only seconds as ideas pour out of me like over-spiced curry through a simple digestive system. I barely know what a blank page looks like. Shortage of ideas, lack of inspiration, fear of failure are all pretty much alien to me. My problem is:

The next step…

I have loads of first chapters. Three thousand words spill out from the end of my tattered, bitten and over-picked finger ends like…

Aren’t similes hard?

In fact, it’s not just first chapters; I often get three written or even five. Ten thousand words and more written in a frenzy of activity and excitement and then… totally run out of steam. I guess I need to curb my enthusiasm (there’s a title for you). 2.-Writing-furiouslyI sort of know what’s going on: everything interests me. I see story in all things. Someone sitting in a pub with their head in their hands; there’s a first chapter. A young man at the train station with a baby, a pig on a lead and a lime-green rucksack; another first chapter. A jacket carefully hung on the branch of a tree next to a fast-flowing river; another first chapter. You get what I mean? And I think this is represented in the style of the novels that I have written so far: crime fiction, romantic thriller, comedy horror, urban realism (is that a genre?) supernatural thriller.

I can’t make my mind up, can I? And there are no shortage of agents who have accused me of cross-genre writing. Cross genre writing? What even is that? Okay, of course, I do know but genre is a slippy little bastard. The_Gunslinger__1988_trade_paperback_But if sticking to a known genre is a thing that will lead to success then what genre is Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy written? Most would opt for fantasy maybe but it’s science fiction, too and young adult fiction and allegory. What about Stephen King’s ‘Dark Tower’ novels? Again, fantasy, cowboy, science fiction, horror. These are great books and if the establishment was able to inflict it’s proscriptive desires on the industry then we wouldn’t have them. They wouldn’t be allowed. We almost certainly wouldn’t have Cloud Atlas, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, The Master and Margarita or even Canterbury Tales. And the world would be a duller place without them.

But none of that solves my problem. What genre (or mash-up of genres) should I write in and stick to? Or should I plough on as I am? After all, I might be siting on the next Slaughterhouse Five or Princess Bride. I’ve already written a sex/horror/comedy/thriller called ‘One Filthy Night’ that I’ve labelled my ‘Carry On Tarantino’ phase. But whatever I decide, I have to deal with the problem of acting like a distracted kid staring out at the playground when I should be learning long division; not that writing stories is at all like long division but it can sometimes feel like it. Reaching for the shiny new thing and dropping the toy I am currently playing with. I guess it’s a bit of self-discipline that I need.

I know exactly what my old mentor, Matt Stanley, would say: ‘It’s because you haven’t planned it properly.’jak-uczyc-sie-efektywnie-1160 I know there’s more than a degree of truth in that but I have ten novels pulling down shelves and taking up disk space that prove that I can actually stay the course. I get planning, I really do, I just don’t do it. I’ve tried and it is soul destroying. Although, that is not to damn it out of hand. I studied and eventually turned my hand to script-writing and there is no doubt, no doubt whatsoever, that you cannot write a script by the seat of your pants. It simply won’t work. The scenes have to be timed and they have to flow seamlessly. You can’t get away with waffling the way you can in a novel. Not that I waffle (except on here), but I’ve read a few authors that do.

The real solution (and I’ve known this all along) is discipline. I don’t have any and I desperately need some because it seems to get harder as I get older. And it’s not often you hear that! My time management is virtually non-existent and my ability to stick at one thing for anything longer than a few minutes is getting more and more of a challenge. I imagine it’s an age issue. Maybe even a sub-conscious awareness that time is running out! This is something that I have to put some serious work into. One of my main problems is that my old writing space (our converted loft) is in utter disarray. It has been a bedroom to kids for years. Now it is no longer needed for that (they’ve nearly all left us) we have to repossess it as our own art area. The plan is to use it for music (playing and listening), painting and writing. It will be good to get it back. Now all I need is to work up the motivation to get myself up there and clear it all out.

Watch this space!

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October 2017

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This has the potential to be an excruciatingly depressing month: no more drying washing outside, the onset of Christmas becoming increasingly unignorable, clocks going back so that it’s dark by mid-afternoon, having to turn the TV up loud to combat the sound of the boiler burning gas you can’t afford… I could go on. I know that some people love autumn and talk wistfully about log fires, woolly jumpers and bobble hats, mulled wine and cosiness. I am aware of these people and they are not normal. Who in their right mind would choose wrapping up in heavy clothing with a teddy bear and a Horlicks over sitting in thirty degrees of sunshine wearing nothing but bright red disco shorts?

No, I won’t be posting a picture of that.

Just walked into a small kitchen where I work. They say that the sense of smell is the most evocative of all our senses. I could actually smell it from about ten metres away and was thrust back immediately into 1973. What could possibly have such a profound effect, I hear you say.

Vesta – Beef Curry with Rice

There was no doubt about it. Not a chance that I was mistaken.

In order to combat the misery that I highlight in the first paragraph, I have been away. The island of Sal in Cape Verde. Over thirty degrees in the shade, up in the forties in the sunshine. Find something to moan about there, I hear you say. Okay, I’ll do my best.DSC03158

First of all, there’s the wildlife. Here we have the Orb-Weaver spider. Now, I took photographs of these in the UK a while ago and they are tiny. These in Sal are not. This was taken from about fifty feet away. They are completely harmless, so I’m told, but that doesn’t stop them from being the stuff of nightmares. Their spiny body is bright green and I got the distinct impression that they were all whispering about us.

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And our scary spider wasn’t the only visitor. We also had a resident Praying Mantis. He was pretty cool, I suppose (I’m presuming it was a ‘he’. I have no experience of sexing Praying Mantis’s) but he still gets the pulse racing when you open the door and he’s just hanging from the frame an inch or two away from your nose. As far as I could tell, he was changing colour depending on what he was standing on (either that or the alcohol was having an unusual effect). In the picture here he appears not to be changing colour. That, I imagine, is just so that I look stupid pretending that it did.

The island is half-way down the side of Africa, 16.4ºN. That’s about level with the north of Senegal so that, I imagine, is why it’s hot. Which is how I like it. However, it’s not conducive with any amount of activity. A hundred yard stroll across the beach (with 90+% humidity) saps the strength faster than you can imagine. So, it is a holiday destination which requires plenty of relaxation. And the Riu Palace in Sal is well equipped for that. Unfortunately, all the outside seating areas are hijacked by the smokers. The only place you can escape from them is in you room. Even around the pool, it’s a problem. And I know that smacks of intolerance but so what. I was unable to sit outside and breath clean air. I think it’s okay to be intolerant of that. All they have to do is provide more areas (plenty of space for that) and have them as non-smoking. Even the reception area reeked from smoke drifting in.
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The local town of Santa Maria had a small pier that was bustling with life. People selling fish, people catching fish, people playing music, jumping off the side into the sea. Kids running round. Amazing place. And all the people were lovely. This is clearly their space and we were made to feel completely welcome. There was a certain lack of health and safety but that made it all the more appealing. No railings, no big ugly signs telling you that water is wet and you can’t breathe under it. I think if this was in England then it would be cordoned off and unsuitable for people to access. We are poorer for it.

The town appears very poor as do the people living there (with notable exceptions). It was difficult not to notice the social divide that seemed to be based on skin colour. The more ‘successful’ people looked Spanish or Portuguese (the islands were owned by Portugal until they banned the slave trade, then it was of no use to them) and the guys desperately trying to sell us stuff or driving taxis were extremely dark. We were only there for seven days so not something I could explore with any chance of success. Rightly or wrongly, I considered the darker guys to be the indigenous people and the European looking guys not. I could be completely off the mark there, I know. But even in the hotel, the desk staff and waiters all were much lighter than the folks cleaning the pool or the toilets or tidying the gardens.
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However, the place is idyllic and everyone seems very happy. I didn’t pick up any sense of danger or tension from anyone. In fact, on a few occasions, when one of the locals either tried to get me to go to his mother’s shop or sell me a piece of art or just engage in conversation, they compared their colour to mine. One guy asked me where I was from. I told him Sheffield in England. He asked me what it was like and I told him he wouldn’t like it there as it rained and snowed and was cold. He insisted that he would love rain and snow, waved his hand up at the sun and said, ‘I don’t need any more of that, I’m black enough.’ and then pressed his arm against mine. ‘You do though,’ he added. So refreshing that our differences can be a source of amusement rather than hate. I didn’t want to come home to the land of extreme nationalism and intolerance.

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In fact, this raised an eyebrow: The cafe of colonialism (I’m guessing that’s what the sign means. I have no Portuguese or any other language, like all good English people, so I’m as bad as those I criticise). I just thought it a little odd that there would be a cafe celebrating what must have been a very dark time. No-one alive can remember slavery but it seems odd that it can be trivialised in this way, if that’s what’s happening. It seems a bit like naming a part of a British city Doodlebug Alley or Blitzkrieg Terrace.

Anyway, that’s as much moaning as I can fit in. The month has nearly finished. The clocks have gone back, the boiler is cranking away and the supermarkets are full of Christmas Tat. On a positive note, I went for a run last Friday in just shorts and tee-shirt and I managed the final cut of the lawn today with washing on the line. So I’ve spent the entire month mourning the loss of summer when I could have saved up my misery until November, which is next week…

 

September 2017

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In a world filled with  negativity I recently found something to be positive about: The Peddler Night Market in Sheffield. Street food, craft beer, live music & art. I’ve been aware of its existence for some time but never visited. However, on the first Friday of this month, Deaf Crows were playing, a blues/rock duo from Sheffield featuring my son and my best mate’s son. They were playing at 9.45 so we got down there about half an hour earlier. I knew it got busy but nothing could have prepared me for the hundreds that were already inside and the huge queue still waiting to get in.

Mostly young people but we didn’t feel out of place as there was a wide representation of other ages (and besides, I still think I’m seventeen). DSC03025It was packed and there was an energy in the air which is almost impossible to describe: a positive, friendly, excited hum and absolutely no feeling of danger or underlying stress that you can get in some city establishments. No shouting or aggressive behaviour out on the pavement. No-one throwing up in the gutter or falling about drunk. It was as though someone had collected all the nice people in the city and dumped them into this magical space on Burton Road

As I said, we turned up a little late, just in time to throw a pint of cider down before the band came on but, after looking around at the food stalls (Vegan, Vegetarian, Pizza oven) DSC03027I wished we’d turned up earlier. There was an all pervading smell of cooked food and garlic in the air and, glancing at the occasional plate or tray as people walked by, I could tell I was missing out. It looked great. In addition to the food there was a bar with more beers than I’d seen at any other event, a cocktail bar, a spirit bar and a soda bar. No big queues, friendly efficient staff and great quality stuff. Fresh, clean and no sign of anyone trying to make a fast buck with inferior products.

I sound as though I have a vested interest; I wish I did. Most city centre venues would kill for a slice of this action. One of those joint endeavours that has just hit the right spot in every instance.

DSC03016The band were fabulous (I am slightly biased but the audience definitely agreed with me). They played for a good forty five minutes if not longer. Roughly a fifty fifty mix of their own material and covers from Bob Dylan to Fleetwood Mac and The Raconteurs. Packed with energy, loud as you like, they went down a storm. And the drummer had man flu! You can catch these boys at Edison’s Cafe on York Street in the city centre on Thursday 28th September. Get yourself down there, you won’t regret it. Along with Deaf Crows there will be sessions from Sky Moguls, To the Strongest & Kid Conventional.

Facing the stage (and getting pretty much the same amount of attention) was the cocktail bar that I mentioned. DSC03018Brilliantly lit and beautiful to look at. Such a shame that I got it almost completely out of focus (in fact, there’s no almost about it). But then again, perhaps that is entirely appropriate as on the few occasions that I’ve been involved with the world of cocktails, it has generally resulted in something of an out of focus experience. Nevertheless, it is an example of how well run this event really is. Although the market has a distinct festival feel to it, folks don’t have to manage with pints of lager or beer that they wouldn’t ordinarily cross the road for. Despite the pop-up nature of the event it is somewhere you can get dressed up in your best clobber. You don’t have to rough it or even wear wellies.

And so an update on the writing front:

On a whim, I loaded a crime novel I wrote about ten years ago up onto my laptop. I prepared myself for the shock of how bad it would be but was pleasantly surprised. It’s not so shabby. In fact, I was impressed enough to edit the first chapter. However, although the writing was okay, it was noticeably out of date. The odd idiom used that is now incongruous (I know, shouldn’t use them anyway) plus the streetlights were all shabby and not working, the pavements cracked and uneven and there was even a mention of pubic hair.

How time changes things. I had to alter the lighting to totally ineffective but blinding LEDs (but managed to keep the dark shadows that the crappy new lights still create), I had to change the footpaths to cheap and not so cheerful tarmac that looks like it’s been laid by a five year old where there used to be York-stone flags with plenty of character, and I had to draw attention to the fact that the existence of pubic hair was now something of a rarity. I know we should all learn to embrace change but we don’t have to like it.

All that said, I finished the chapter and then moved on and edited another four. This novel actually attracted an agent in its previous life so maybe it’s worth getting it out there again. I mean, all the work’s done. The hours have been put in and I know that the story works. Ninety six thousand words that just need a final polish (hopefully).

Wish me luck.

Oh, and I should definitely have done this before. A couple of Romantic Thrillers that I have on Amazon Kindle. Both worth a look.

                                                            

 

 

 

August 2017

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It’s that time of year again: Cropredy!

That means that I’ve been writing this blog for a year now. Time flies when you’re not paying attention. This year was the fiftieth anniversary of Fairport Convention. I guess they’re feeling old, too.

As ever, it was a fabulous affair. It’s a three day festival (Thursday – Saturday) but this year there was an option to turn up on the Wednesday. DSC02913This was great as, usually, we plan to sit around and chat and drink after each day but, after twelve hours of drinking, no-one is fit to stay up any longer.

We were greeted in field 8 by a series of fairyrings. One member of our group got very excited and started going on about fairies dancing in circles and was less than pleased when I mentioned mycelium spreading out in ever increasing circles. I wasn’t trying to spoil the magic, just telling them how it worked. Needless to say, the rings were soon well and truly trampled.

We often get a ‘bit of weather’ at Cropredy but this year we were pretty lucky: an hour and a half of light rain on Friday and that was it. Beautiful fluffy clouds all weekend and, when the sun did break through, it was hot.DSC02955 I put it down to my footwear. Each year I turn up in sandals and I think that maybe that hacks off the weather gods. They burst the clouds in order to teach me a lesson. This year I went for something a little more sensible and I think it had the same effect as taking an umbrella out with you: it always proves to be unnecessary.

If the colours in the picture offend then I can only apologise: I am required to wear bright colours in the (unlikely) event that I wander off and can’t remember who I am. My apparel makes me easily identifiable.
DSC03003One of the highlights of the weekend is always the people that you see and meet there. From the famous (Robert Plant and Ed Milliband were seen in the field this year) to the vaguely familiar. Here’s a chap we see most years: I’m not sure whether or not the banana phone actually works or not but he talks an awful lot on it. It is, in fact, a smart banana phone because I saw him use it as a camera later in the day. He took a photo of a group of people, scrolled through the images and asked them to pick their favourite. He is seen a lot up at the top of the field where they have children’s entertainment. I’m assured that he’s perfectly safe. I also bumped into Maartin Alcock at the bar: former bass player of Jethro Tull and Fairport. I just said hello as I was fabulously drunk and didn’t want to dismay the man too much.

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Later in the day we saw the moon. I was assured that it was the very same one that we see in Sheffield. I have to admit, it looks very similar. I like the moon and take many, many pictures of it. Some members of my family consider my habit to be bordering on an obsession. Obsessed by the moon? That would be lunacy! No, I like it because no matter where you are in the world, it’s like having an old friend with you. Of course, I always have my wife with me wherever I am in the world otherwise I would have never got there in the first place so that sort of makes the argument redundant.
DSC03012The walk back to the tent or camper van is always exciting; more so because we have to negotiate a small humpty back bridge, a stream and a canal. Not a simple matter when you have just drunk forty two pints of cider. Again this year was particularly magical as a full-on fairy grotto had been installed near the canal. I didn’t drop my camera into it but I have no idea how I managed not to. The peaceful, colourful, calm colours and reflections are somewhat in contrast to the reality as there is usually somewhere in the region of ten thousand people who have been drinking constantly for twelve hours all trying to pass this way, each with at least one bag, fold-up chair, various children and a can in one hand.

Apropos of nothing:

So, now it’s nearly half eleven. We’ve had curry, watched comedy and a documentary about Shane McGowan’s teeth (I cried, make of that what you will) and now Mary’s gone to bed while I tidy up – and drink the last can of cider that I really didn’t need. I know how it goes. And yet, as I went to pick up my can I thought, ‘Oh, Mary’s put it at the side of the hob for me. Excellent!’ And then, having picked it up and slugged hard, noticed that there was another can on the table at the side of where I sat to eat curry and watch TV. Yes, not only have I had more than I need, I’ve had two more than I need. I don’t use this journal as a confessional – although I do – but I think it wise to record this minor incident. If nothing else, if I go because my liver’s fucked then at least someone can look back on this and say, ‘Well, in all honesty, it wasn’t just his liver. His liver may well have survived if he hadn’t lost his mind first.’

 

 

 

 

July 2017

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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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Greg Knowles

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.