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.

                                                            

 

 

 

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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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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.

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.