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.

 

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October

I’m not going to moan. I’m not. I promise.

October is the month for Sheffield’s Literary Festival – Off The Shelf, and my writing group will be launching its twenty sixth…

I’m going to say that again… twenty sixth – Anthology.

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It would appear, going by the cover of this year’s programme, that Off The Shelf is in its twenty fifth year. So, almost as old as our Anthology. (I’m assuming that Off The Shelf won’t object to me using their graphic as I am promoting their event)

Our launch will be on Monday 10th October at The Lescar on Sharrowvale Road. Members of the group will read out some of their work and we will be joined by our special guest: Gavin Extence (The Universe versus Alex  Woods; The Mirror World of Melody Black and his new book: The Empathy Problem) It should be a good night. £3 entrance fee which includes a free Anthology. The evening starts at 7.30 and we aim to be away by 9.30. That doesn’t always happen though but The Lescar is a very nice pub so it’s not a terrible sacrifice to stay longer.

I have to produce something to read out at the event. This is always a problem as I write novels. As such, I really could do with more than the three or four minutes that are allocated. However, restriction feeds the creative process (try writing a story in fifty words – a great exercise), so I  will be needing something new. I will heed the recent advice of my friend Conor O’Callaghan and ‘keep it spooky’. October is definitely the month for getting spooky as the dark nights draw in and Halloween approaches…

That’s it, I need some light relief.

I was here only three weeks ago.

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There, that’s much better. I can feel the sun on my face and the beer in my belly.

I’ll try not to digress again.

So, spooky. Where was I? Oh, yes! So, it needs to be short and, by their nature, spooky stories really need a bit of time to build. There’s a problem right there. But I have a solution. Or at least I think I do.

There was a short event in my past that was instantly spooky. I was walking up a lane in Derbyshire, away from a relatively well-off, large housing area. In the distance, I could see a family walking down towards me. Mum, dad and young son. As they approached I noticed that they were rather old-fashioned in the way they dressed. Sort of fifties-ish. The boy wore knee-length grey shorts, a knitted jumper and a cap. In addition, as we were about to meet, I realised that the child bore a striking resemblance to myself in the early sixties (when I would be five or six, the same age as the boy approaching). The gap slowly closed and the boy stared at my face as we passed. A little perplexing.

I continued up the lane, amusing myself with the idea that perhaps the boy was thinking, ‘He looks just like I will in twenty years time.’ After a minute or two I stopped and turned around. No idea why. At the bottom of the lane the family had also stopped and were trying to urge the boy on. He was standing stiff and resolute, facing up the hill, his stare was still locked onto me.

Obviously, it meant nothing. But it did give me a turn and I’ve never forgotten it. And the idea of Doppelgangers is a powerful one. So that’s where I’m going with my very short story. If it works, I’ll post a link to it on here in November.

DSC01476And now…  a seasonal image more in keeping with Halloween and things that go bump in the night. Only it was taken exactly five hours after the picture above.

 

September

Thursday 22nd.

The first day of Autumn.

Bugger.

I know, I know, negative. But I can’t help it. It’s supposed to be all Winnie the Pooh wind and brown leaves and healthy fresh air… but all I envisage is:

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I mean, the kids are all back at school (I still get depressed about that and I’ve been left forty years) and we’re rehearsing for the panto round the tennis club. The conkers are big on the trees and I see a distinct change from the vibrant green leaves to more of a deathly, sallow yellow.

And apart from all that, this year has been utterly shit: Bowie, Prince, Lemmy, Brexit, Trump, Jeremy C Hunt; an increase in racism that seems to match 1936 Berlin levels; mad bastards blowing shit up and shooting kids that are out enjoying themselves.

I’m making myself feel worse.

All I really want is:

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Is that really too much to ask?

A bit of sunshine?

A ray of hope?

Another holiday?

 

I apologise. I’m just going to leave the room for a moment and have a quiet word with myself…

Right, I’ve sorted that. I’ve had a walk in the sun; I’ve read a poem; I’ve bought two books (Red Queen – Christina Henry’s follow up to the amazing ‘Alice’ and Fellside – M. A. Carey’s new novel); I’ve strummed a song on my guitar (Space Odyssey) and I’ve edited a bit of my own drivel. I also talked to two old ladies, a gentleman in a wheelchair and felt fresh air on my skin for an hour. It strikes me that it’s the simple things in life that keep us sane.

So, enough of all that negative bullshit. The fuckwits of this world are not going to affect my mood (although cold weather might just break through my joyfulness). The daily frustrations and petty irritations can kiss my proverbial. The good things in life truly are free (although the books cost me sixteen quid).

And that’s the point of this post really. It’s all about art. Art is what matters. Whether you’re consuming it or making it, you are contributing to the well-being of humanity as a whole. And it makes me very proud to be in a position where I can produce some of this mind nectar for the masses. You don’t have to like what I write but at least it’s a distraction from all that utter nonsense that we are expected to treat as reality out there.

As if to prove my point, I got so engrossed in what I was doing to distract me that I forgot to even post this until three days later. See you all in October.