Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Hour Before Dawn.

The whole of phenomena seems to take on a particular feeling in the hour before dawn, and this is the hour in which I’m writing now. The temperature of the day is at its lowest and, even in tropical places, the air feels alive and new on your skin.

I am not in a tropical place now. I am in Manchester. However, it is here that I find the pre dawn hour most beguiling. Maybe it is because it is the hour of the day which I experience the least. If I am awake, it usually means that I’m a.) travelling b). not been to bed due to some adventure or other or c.) gotten so carried away by some creative endeavour that I’ve forgotten all about the normality of sleeping at night. In short, for me, being awake just before dawn usually means a break from the routine, and I love a break from the routine.

When I was in my early teens, I had a funny fortnight or two. It was during the springtime. I set my alarm to wake me early. I would climb up onto the rooftops, where I would station myself facing east. I could hear a milk float stopping and starting, clicking it’s brake on and off and quietly whirring its way around the streets below. This was the soundtrack to my waiting for the sunrise.

The mortar in the brickwork of the chimney stacks would slowly take on a radiant light as breaking of sunlight drew closer. Collared doves would, every now and then, purr and coo their unmistakable Morse code. Cu cooooooooo cu. Cu cooooooooo cu.

The light of the day would creep over the rooftops like water running off a mountain until it was finally daytime. Then I would climb back to earth, climb back into bed and fall back to sleep. 

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Comet Point.

As I passed a graveyard that sat between two forks of the road, I wanted to stop. I wanted to sit down and rest and look at the graves with their little engravings of Jesus and Mary, the candles that burned quietly and all the flowers that decorated the place. They make a big deal out of death in Mexico. It was a severely wonderful place, that graveyard.

Nevertheless, time was marching on and I had to reach Punta Cometa before the sun sank into the sea. Punta Cometa – what a lovely name.

I get quite taken by names. I especially love the names of places I’ve never been to. I think that maybe this is because once I visit a place it rarely lives up to what I imagined it could be. Punta Cometa, a beach on the south coast of Mexico, does not fall into that category. I had few positive expectations, so it easily exceeded all of them. I don’t think I should ever like to return, however.

It is an outcrop of land, covered in cacti and finished off with rocks. The very tail end of the rocks forms the shape of a hand with index finger outstretched as if pointing south. If a crow flew out from that rocky finger and travelled straight, as crows apparently do, then it would not see land until it reached the Antarctic.

It had taken me about an hour to find the place and I’d almost gone the wrong way several times.

When I finally got there, I could see the whole ocean. I could see all the way south, as well as east and west. The sun was nearing the horizon so I found myself a westward facing mound of sand to sit on.

Now I must mention my hatred of sentimentality. Anything that may be deemed to be beautiful and romantic I try and ruin, in the same way that I always start swearing when I’m at a dinner party.

I sat there for a time, waiting for the sun to disappear - I wondered why I’d bothered. The only other people in the vicinity were a couple who were somewhere down the other end of the beach from me. They were obviously ‘in love’ and the fact that they were sharing a romantic moment with the sunset made me want to die. Although I was trying to enjoy the wonder of sunset (an act which does require some degree of the poetic spirit) I felt smug in my pragmatism as I forsaw a day when that couple’s love would fall apart and render this moment meaningless for them.

Well, I sat there on my own watching crabs burrowing their holes in the sand. The wind was blowing oceanic waves towards me and the air was fresh in my nostrils. The colour of the sky was amazing. I was impatient for the sun to get on with it so I could go for a drink. I felt so irritated by the whole beautiful thing that I would have left pre-sundown if I hadn’t have worked up such a sweat getting there.

I decided I would wait it out. I would wait for the bloody sunset then get off back to the bar for a beer. It was the waiting that did it. It cracked my little heart open. I was waiting for the sun and it wasn’t rushing on my account.

The Sun does not rush and the Earth does not rush. No matter if I railed against it or not, the sun was sinking, unhurried, and a few hours later it would be setting somewhere else. The sun is always setting somewhere. In the same way, it is always rising. Sunsets are remarkable because they do not last forever. The sun is constantly creating scenes of unsurpassed splendour and this is the case whether a person trying to deny its beauty is watching it, or not. I sat there on my sandy mound and I felt apologetic towards myself.

As the orange sphere turned into a semi circle and the semi circle got smaller and lower, I felt a melancholy feeling in my chest until finally the last slither of sunlight disappeared like a match being extinguished by the sea water.

A grainy dusk descended and it was time to leave the beach, back up the hill that lay overhead, back past the candles that burned for the dead then a few more beers before going to bed. 

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Airport Anonymity.


Years ago, the month of March, alone. I remember sitting in the airport somewhere in the middle east. I was waiting for a connecting flight, watching the lights on the runway move in and out of my vision as aeroplanes heaved their way into the sky and off to their various destinations. The darkness of the night stretched out beyond, blowing past the fluorescent windsocks and off into a place I could not imagine.

At that moment, the world that had been comfortably holding me in its palm since birth stretched out its fingers and flicked me off into an abyss. I was staring at a deep loneliness that was to become more familiar to me than my own feet. 

Since then, airports have always had a weird effect on me. I find them to be lonely places. I suppose this is because I hardly ever run into anyone I know at an airport, and I usually travel on my own.  At airports, everyone is going somewhere but no one is on the same trip that you’re on. I don’t see how that is different to life in general, but it’s more pronounced at an airport. They are fascinating and slightly enchanting places. They’re like portals; where time, as we know it, doesn’t really exist. You can board a flight at say, 3pm, fly for 9 hours and arrive somewhere at the same 3pm you set off at. 

(Ironically, time is more important than anything in airports, because if you miss your flight due to philosophizing about the nature of time, then you won’t get to where you need to go. In light of that, I am always astounded by the lack of clocks in airports. There are an array of screens telling you when you need to be at what place to get to where you need to go, but there are not that many clocks to give any indication as to how long it is until that crucial moment arrives. This is why I always wear a watch)

I think there is a part of us humans that simply cannot comprehend the notion of flight. We’ve not had time to factor it into our evolution. Yes, we might have reasoned it out with ourselves and reached an intellectual understanding, but at the core of it, I think we have trouble getting our heads around the whole business. I’m not saying that is a good or a bad thing, and I try not to let the issue plague me. However, if what I say is on any level correct then it would more than account for the décor and musac that spreads its hospital like hubbub around all the paraphernalia of plane travel....  

....The airport doth protest too much that “EVERYTHING IS OK!!!”, me thinks. Vivaldi and white walls, major keyed announcement chimes, big yellow arrows and those flat escalator things that make you feel like you’re walking really quickly when in fact you’re walking really slowly. There is nothing to indicate that what you’re about to do (i.e defy gravity) in any way runs contrary to what your distant AND close ancestors knew to be possible and safe.  I have, on occasion, spotted signs in airport lounges that say things along the lines of “sit back and relax. Let us take care of you”. You can purchase a new lipstick or drink a nice bottle of wine, you could enjoy a croissant or look at pictures of shoes in a magazine, but whatever you do, do NOT think about your own mortality. Do not look at the abyss that is represented by the notion of death. Do not think about that. Everything is OK - the 20% off signs in the window of tie rack say it is so. Sit back and relax.

Having said all of that, I’m not at all frightened of flying. It goes against all of my intrinsic survival instincts, but I know that I’m probably more likely to choke on an olive stone at home on my own than I am to die in a plane crash. I don’t even think that I’m massively worried about dying in general (although I would like to outlive my parents to avoid the heartache they would feel if I didn’t). 

I did once have a panic attack on a plane, but I think this was more due to the fact that I’d been upgraded to business class than it was the fear of imminent death. I felt hugely out of my comfort zone sat amongst all those moneyed men in suits and it made me feel all agitated.

I like flying and I like airports. I like the fact that no one knows me at an airport. I like it because the daily frames of reference by which I understand my reality are all turned upside down and inside out, and there is no one to question where I’m going or why.

When I’m at an airport, I am just passing through a portal. Everywhere leads to anywhere, nothing is normal, time moves back and forth and nobody is waiting for you on the other end. This is what I would say if I ever wanted to become and airhostess and got asked, “Why did you decide to apply for this job?” in the interview.  I don’t think I’d get the job.

Once I’d spent enough time in airports to realize that perusing eye shadows and chocolate can get tiresome, I started going to the prayer rooms. I like watching people pray. You have to do it subtly or people get upset. I wonder if you can get chucked out of an airport prayer room for staring at the praying people? If this were to happen to me, I would tell the security officer that voyeurism is my religion and that to deny me of that would be an infringement of my human rights and may also bring about the apocalypse. 

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Serendipia de el Ciudad.

“Well, fancy that” thought I, as I happened upon Diego for the second time. Since then I’ve googled “Mexico City. Population.” To find out that around 9 million people inhabit the place. It is truly immense in size. I’m not one for mumbo jumbo but this was rather serendipitous.   

I was sat there eating a taco at a street stall. I was wondering if the extra hot chilli sauce might play havoc with my insides when I spotted him. He was sitting at the table next to me. I almost chocked on my guacamole.

Two weeks previous to this near death taco eating event, I’d played a gig in a posh place somewhere in the east side of the city, I don’t know where, the taxi driver confused and overcharged me and the place had a long and complicated name.

There had been this man in the audience, sketching. I sidled up to him after the gig, and peered over his shoulder. His drawing was really good. Turned out he spoke English, and he liked my music as much as I liked his drawing so we chatted. He didn’t stay for long. I thought “what a nice fella”. That fella was Diego, and I didn’t expect to ever see him again.

The day after that gig, I left the city for the coast, spent a bit of time in the surf, returned to the city, played some more gigs, left the city again, watched the sun set behind a volcano and all of that kind of stuff. Then I returned to the city for the final time.

And there he was, two weeks later - the opposite side of the city, but the same Diego. As I feasted on the delicious taco, our eyes met over the coriander. I lost control of myself and nearly fell victim to avocado induced asphyxiation.  Chance is a funny thing. I think I’m going to ask him to draw my next album cover or something… something more has to come out of my bumping into the same person twice out possible 9 million people.


My wardrobe is bursting. Granted, it’s not a very big piece of furniture, it’s a children’s wardrobe from Ikea. This has led to my clothing spilling out into my bedroom. I hang my favourite garments from hook on the walls, and use them as interior decoration as well as adorning my body with them. My general feeling toward clothing is love but also hate.

Clothes, for a woman in this modern, western world, are not merely for keeping one’s organs at the ideal temperature for sustaining life (which incidentally, is about 34 degrees Celsius), or simply for protecting one’s skin from the elements. Clothes give an indication as to the character of the person wearing them. You can usually tell a person’s life choices by the clothes that they are wearing. You can easily make a judgement on a person’s values by the way they do their hair, and how well ironed their garments are (n.b. I do not own an iron).

If I were suddenly released from the feeling of social pressure that I have created for myself over the course of my adulthood, then I’d certainly own nothing but the following…

A small but practical collection of underwear and socks
1 pair of sturdy boots
1 pair of practical sandals
1 pair of multipurpose, non descript black pumps (if I were feeling exuberant)
1 pair of loose fitting jeans
1 pair of standard shorts
1 dress for special occasions
2 shirts
2 vests
1 full set of thermals
1 cagoule
1 pair of waterproof trousers
1 boiler suit

I sometimes wonder if things would have been easier if I’d have been born a man. Nevertheless, I have, in this lifetime, assumed the form of a woman and I choose to dress accordingly. 

I’ve got medium sized heeled shoes in most colours of the rainbow (high heels are just a step to far – no pun intended - I’ve got one pair and they give me the feeling that I’m some kind of con artist whenever I wear them). I’ve got cardigans in most hues and an array of dresses. They are all different lengths; different shapes and not all dresses match up with all cardigans. Sometimes I wear denim and sometimes I’m seen in a chequered number. I’ve got acrylic jumpers and I’ve got woollen things, and many lacy tops. I’ve got tulip skirts and a-line ones. It is really important not to match one’s garments incorrectly, as doing so will make one look like an explosion in a textile factory and you could also risk looking like your thighs are fatter than they are, or such like. This is something you do not want to do.

Like I said, I think I would much prefer to have a life with a small, practical smattering of garments… I would choose loose, comfortable jeans, but they wouldn’t be so loose that I trip over the hems, like do when I’m sporting my 70’s style bell bottoms.

My 70’s style bell bottomed jeans always trip me up. Furthermore, when it rains (which is does a lot in Manchester) they drag through puddles and soak muddy water up to the knees. In turn, the water then drips onto my shoes. Hence, the general outcome of wearing my 70’s style bell bottomed jeans in Manchester is a constant threat of trench foot.  I’m pretty sure they also create some ambiguity as to the size of my calves, which I’m not sure is a good thing or a bad thing. I’ve not worn them for a while… it’s too stressful.

Sometimes I feel like I am a trendy son of a gun, and sometimes I feel all mumsy. Sometimes I feel glamorous and sometimes I feel round and clumsy. Sometimes I feel like I’m a youthful, flowery sweet thing and sometimes I feel like a mature, wise woman of the world. I have a pair of fake spectacles for the days when I feel bookish. (N.b. feeling booking had nothing to do with the reading of books. In fact, I often read books whilst wearing a shift dress and boots, and that is not a bookish look.)

Some days I wake up and I don’t want to wear any of my clothing. Nothing feels quite right. Some days, I suppose, I just don’t know who I am, or who I want to be. Those are the days when I wish I could be invisible. Walking around in the nude is not legal, socially acceptable or warm enough, so that is not a solution to the problem.

I adore camping more than anything. I like kayaking and I like hill walking and I like climbing, although I admit that these pursuits are more ideas of hobbies than things I actually do frequently. I like camping and hill walking and kayaking and climbing because you just can not be expected to wear high heels when engaging in any of them. The length of your pencil skirt is not an issue that needs consideration when you’re clinging onto a rock face, trying to scale a mountain.

Cats have no idea how fortunate they are to have no choice in their own style. For a tortoise shell furry cat, you're a tortoise shell furry cat , and that’s an end to it.

I envisage a day when I will snap, burn all of my shoes and throw my clothes into a skip. From the outside, this might look like the actions of someone who has lost the plot. On that day, I will be freed from this daily torrent of ‘character representation decision-making’, and I will live on a canal boat, wearing thermal leggings, surrounded by lucky ducks who don’t have to worry about the colour of their feathers clashing with the colour of their beaks. 

Tuesday, 3 May 2011


Mexico - the second time round nearly ruined me. It was the memory of the first time that was the thing. I couldn’t even remember how long ago it was since I’d visited, but the stamps inside my passport soon cleared up any ambiguity. Three years. I felt much older, less wide-eyed and more well practiced in the art of tolerating my own company.

The feeling of aloneness seems to have little do with how many people are around you. Mexico city is one of the most populated places on the planet. The first night I slept in a cheap hotel. The soft furnishings were brown, there were cigarette burns in the bed sheets and my window looked straight at a large and noisy extractor fan. These things didn't bother me. Hotel rooms are for sleeping in, not wallowing in. However, the lack of toilet seat was literally a pain in the arse.

Jet lag prodded me into consciousness at an unreasonable hour, so I decided to pack my things and head out to find another cheap, but hopefully, better hotel. That day’s dawn saw me walking down a busy street in Mexico city’s historical centre as the shoe shine merchants set up their stalls and men with trolleys shifted goods around the city before the day began. I stopped at every cross roads to check in with my map.

I'd arrived on the Tuesday and I was due to give a master class at a university on the friday, so I spent a few days pottering around in Mexico City. The cathedral bells echoed around and brushed my ears with delight every fifteen minutes. After numerous goading tolls, I decided to go and investigate the source of the sound. The Cathedral on the Zocalo is a wonderful thing. Even the depths of my atheism did not fail to wince in amazement at the scale of that building. It's not that I hadn't seen the Cathedral before. I'd stood outside it in the dazzling midday heat three years previously, in the company of a person I hardly knew, at the time. I hadn't been inside it before. I'd experienced the exterior but this time was more about what lay behind and around it. 

After the deciphering of many things Hispanic, I realised that it was possible to go up onto the roof of the Cathedral and see the bells up close. I bought a ticket and waited around, hoping that I hadn’t got the wrong end of the stick. I clocked another non-Spanish speaking person who seemed to be in the same predicament as I. He was a tall, blond man from Australia who, to my surprise, answered to the name of ‘Bret’. I explained my findings to him and we climbed the bell tower together.

The bells on the Cathedral roof were mighty. They were bigger than my body. The thingies inside them which makes them ring (what do you call them? Dongy things?Swingy chimes? Bongy wotsits? Suggestions welcome) were bigger than my cranium.

After that, my mind was a little flimsy and open to suggestion. I went for a beer with Bret and watched the sun setting from a roof terrace above the Zocalo. The colour the sun cast on the opposing buildings was a rich yellow. I felt that nothing could have made that moment better*

I was a little tipsy but I felt quite sober. My hotel was only ten minutes away so I wandered back, setting off in entirely wrong direction which meant I was walking for a good two hours. I passed by a number of men in sombreros, sleeping with their guitars propped up against them. I came across a Mariachi playing a Paraguayan harp. I can't imagine every foreigner he happened upon even knew the difference between a Banjo and a Ukulele so he seemed impressed by assertion that "me gusta el arpa de Paraguay". I had another beer or two, sat on out some square in the cool evening air.  I think I ate some chicken wrapped in a tortilla, which broke my vegetarianism of 17 years**.

After a good amount of confused map reading, I found my hotel again, filled up my water bottle, climbed into my little bed and let the Cathedral bells chime me to sweetly to sleep.*** 

 *I since learned that it could have been slightly improved upon if I'd have have ordered a Michalada ‘Bohemia Obscura’ beer. Naivety was saving that liquid delight for another moment.

** Excluding the rabbit incident of 2009. See previous blog.

*** the standard tune that chimes the bells of Mexico City Cathedral is conspicuously major in key, but the resonance of the bells is so pronounced that is actually sounds quite minor. This gives the strangest effect, and it vexed me every time I heard it because I just couldn’t work it out. After a few days of the delightful but interminable ringing, I escaped to the coast where nothing but the sound of pacific waves breaking ran through the sonic landscape.

Monday, 14 March 2011


Many an hour of my tiny existence has been spent on pondering the reasons as to why people stay in places. I suppose I’ve been trying to work out the meaning of the word “home”.  A bolt of lightening-like inspiration once came to me whilst watching a nature documentary about Wildebeest.

Now then, I’ll have to ask you to bear with me while I try to explain.

I was born in a small town called Wigan. I’ve visited a fair amount of places, for my age, I suppose. My chosen career as a musician does not require me to reside in any place in particular, so I wouldn’t ever live somewhere solely for my job. At times I have lived in proximity to a person of my liking, but I’m currently without such a person, so I couldn’t say that has influenced my choice of abode. Nevertheless, I’ve always returned to the general area of Manchester, and I certainly consider it to be my home.

It has to be said that there are many places prettier, sunnier and cheaper to live in than the place I reside. Nevertheless, I choose to stay here. “choose” being the operative word.

I was thinking about lions. Lions eat the wildebeest on the Serengeti. When the wildebeest migrate from the liony area, the lions go hungry for a number of months until the wildebeest return. In my simple way, I wondered why the lions don’t just follow the wildebeest and carry on eating them all year round. Then I realised that wherever the lions live, the lions stay. They are not a migrating species. They don’t have an awareness of where the wildebeest go. They probably haven’t even thought of it! (oh how I long to have a lion’s peaceful mind) All they know is that sometimes there are wildebeest around, and sometimes there aren’t. Well, I got to thinking how all the animals in the world would be much better off if they only knew what was round the corner. If penguins knew about two things 1.Barbados and 2.boats, they’d never stand there in the middle of the Antarctic for half the year, huddling up to strangers in an effort to keep warm.

But they don’t know about Barbados. Or boats.

This got me thinking further. There are certain reasons why things stay in places… some of these reasons are obvious. For instance, tigers have never come to England because they couldn’t swim that far. Cicadas stay in the tropics because they need the heat to warm their bodies. A man born in outer Mongolia might not visit Spain because he hasn’t the money or the relevant inspiration / education to arrive at the place of thinking he might visit the place. A woman might stay in Manchester because she likes the place that does good coffee nearby where she lives.

I largely subscribe to the belief that for every one thing that is obvious and visible, there are ten things that we haven’t found out yet. Like icebergs, only a tiny amount pokes out of the water, the sea hides the vast majority of an iceberg. So, for every obvious reason, there are probably ten reasons that we can’t fathom.

The obvious reasons for living in a place would be job, partner, climate, culture, affordability etc. But just think, there are things that tie a person to a place that go far beyond all of that. Why do people stay in unhappy relationships, even though it’s just a matter of sharing out the c.d.s and deciding who gets the cat, I ask you? Why do people stay in jobs that they dislike, even though they would have no problem finding a different career? I’m not saying I know the answer, but there is definitely a driving force much deeper than human rationale that dictates the way things live.

(n.b  I’m not making a judgement about others, for I myself have both stayed in bad jobs and hesitated to be parted from pets in the past)

If everything accorded with what the human race’s intellectual capacity can comprehend (try saying that when you’re drunk), then the lions would definitely follow the wildebeest and penguins would be would be sunning it up in The Caribbean.

In short, there are many reasons that cause a thing to be in a place. Some of those reasons are beyond the human intellect to understand.

Throughout all of this I was feeling that there must be a profound reason for my existence, and wherever I am is part of me living out that existence. I couldn’t tell you exactly what the reason is, because it is like the middle of an iceberg, you know it is there but you could only ever guess at what is looks like. Knowing it is there is enough. The lions live in their way, and I live in mine.

Don’t worry I’ll be back to blogging abut my misfortunes on the French rail system, or other such matters, soon.

p.s. I really want to live on a canal boat but I don’t know how I’d get a grand piano onto one.  

Wednesday, 23 February 2011


I remember once, I was sat in some airport. I think it was Amsterdam. For some reason the plane was fully booked. I dunno, maybe it was Easter or half term or some notable holiday. Things like that generally pass me by, bank holidays and the like. Anyway, the plane being fully booked spelled DOOM. I don’t always travel with the love of my life but for emotional reasons I didn’t want to do that tour without my Martin guitar.

Somehow I’d managed to smuggle it past the check in people and gotten it to the gate. They looked at me like I was taking the proverbial. They told that I wouldn’t be able to take it on board. Now, I have a slight chip on my shoulder about this. There were fussing mothers with bags and bags of things that I’m sure they didn’t need for the flight. There were business men in awful shiny shoes with brief cases and things on wheels which I’m certain only contained paper work or something that would not cause complete emotional meltdown if it were to get thrown around by the heavy handed cargo handling men. Why can't they be persecuted!?

When the airport people saw me with the guitar, I was asked to wait at the door like a naughty school child. I sat and I sweated. My heart was beating very fast. I bit all my fingernails off. When the woman who was to decide the fate of my guitar came to speak to me, I literally knelt on the floor and pleaded with her. I expressed the following…

Some people wait an entire lifetime to find the person of their dreams. When they meet that person, they can’t imagine what life would ever be like without them. This is usually when people get married. About 5 years ago, I didn’t know the meaning of this until I visited a guitar shop in Runcorn called ‘Frailers’ (note to all guitarists… you MUST go there). Up until that point I’d been having a fling of an affair with a cheap acoustic that had an unnecessary cut away and intonation that didn’t fit so well with my ears. That day at frailers, everything I’d ever experienced before was overwritten. The Spanish nylon that lilted me through my late teens, the steel stringed thing that lifted me into my early twenties became obsolete at that moment. I found my Martin.

In all honesty I didn’t mean to acquire a guitar that day in Runcorn, but I knew that the world would be out of balance forever if me and Martin were to be apart for a day longer. I brought him home with me and I have loved him ever since.

I don’t have him insured. One might think this foolish, but my rational on the matter is beyond reason, into realms of the existential. If something bad happened to him, my life would end at that very moment. You wouldn’t insure your husband who you love more than anything, so that you could buy a new one if he died, would you? That would undermine everything.

I never leave him in a car alone. He has accompanied me into many a service station toilet and he has sat with me while I’ve drank numerous cappuccinos next to some motorway or other. He knows me better than anyone and I could still tune him perfectly even if I were to become deaf. I know exactly how much the machine heads need to be turned to create a certain note, and I know when a string is about to snap just by touching him. This is awful when it happens half way through a gig but I never blame him. Sometimes he speaks to me in the night, I hear a string slip slightly as my house becomes cool after the heating has gone off.  Sometimes the wood just creaks a little. I accept that I may never meet a person whom I will spend my whole life with, but I know that I will never be alone because I have already found my soul mate.

Anyhow, I regaled the lady at the airport in this kind of vein. There was sweat pouring off my forehead and I was slightly shaking. In the end, she let me take it on board. Love, it seems, does conquer all. 

Stalactites and Stalagmites.

My nose was well and truly stuck into a book. ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’. Reading in cars makes me feel sick but I couldn’t stop. I felt sick for the whole journey around Italy but I couldn’t put it down.

My alarm beeped at an unholy hour and woke me in Bologna. I had to heed its noise because I had a plane to catch. It would have been too far to drive from to Bari in a day so my booking agent had got me booked on one of those bright yellow flying machines, a ryan air aeroplane. This made me happy because it meant that I could read some more and not feel sick. When I arrived in Bari I tried to sleep for a few hours before the gig. I didn’t sleep, I just read. By the time gig o’clock arrived I was shattered and emotionally wrecked by the goings on on the Western Front.

Turned out the gig was in a cave. I was expecting a little cavern with a few tea lights dotted around. Instead, I had to get into a lift that took me far underground and spat me out in a GIANT cave that was possibly the most amazing place I’ve ever seen. It was cold and damp and really echoey. As I walked up to what you might refer to as the stage area, but was actually just a little bit of rock, I spied a grand piano. My knees nearly buckled beneath me in excitement. “How did they get that thing down here?” I thought. I then realised it was a mock grand piano. It looked like a grand piano, but inside the keyboard area was a digital thing. I imagine this is the kind of affair that Elton John might play. I was a bit disappointed about that. There were all manner of stalactites and stalagmites pointing around the place and they were all lit up by different coloured lights. My facts might be wrong and I can’t be bothered googling it, but I think that cave might be the biggest underground cave in Europe or something.

The sound was magnificent. Speakers and microphones were really quite useless in such a cavernous space. My voice sounded like it was a billion times bigger than I. It felt like it was infinite. Why, I could almost see the vibrations of my voice bouncing around and soaring upwards and downwards and all around. I worried that my voice might disturb a stalactite and it might fall from the roof and skewer some innocent audience member while I was in the middle of ‘Canopy’ of some other song with high bits.

The next day my alarm beeped at an unholy hour once again. Another airport. This time I was heading back home. Sleep had been thin on the ground for days, but I still couldn’t put the book down. I ordered a coffee from a terribly unfriendly woman and started to cry. I sat on an airport sofa and wept. The woman’s unfriendliness had pushed me over the edge. I carried on reading my book through my tears. I can’t give away the ending, but it’s pretty sad. The final words passed by my tear filled eyes as I sat on the airport sofa and I started to heave with heartache. That book is the saddest tale I’ve ever known and I was inconsolable all the way home.

As soon as I got back I had to head straight off for a gig in Manchester. I love Manchester but it’s a hard place to return to sometimes.  

Friday, 18 February 2011

The Bell That Wakes Me Every Sunday.

When I moved into my current abode I was in the middle of a phase where I was obsessed by bells. My second album had not long been finished and released, and it contained many metallic noises. Vibraphone, dulcitone, glockenspiel, hand bells and the like. Bells are just the sounds of metal aren’t they. My second album in entitled “Wrought Iron”. I was into metal noises at the time. I’ve moved on to drones and pitch shifting now. 

The place where I live is pretty nice, if a little damp. My kitchen and my bathroom are without heating, which makes for interesting winters. I do believe that it’s not right to expect to be constantly warm even in January and I practice what I preach. This has lead to me to a situation where I never play my guitar in the winter months. My hands get too cold. It takes them about a month of springtime to warm to guitar playing temperature. It’s ok though because winter gives room for me to play piano. My hands don’t need to be as warm to play piano.

As for the harp, well that is another story. It seems that I can only play that instrument with my window wide open. I like the idea that there might be some handsom prince riding past on a horse, and the harp might drift into his ears and he might be unable to resist following the sound until he sees me… a round woman from Wigan. He might be momentarily disappointed but I’ll promise to play wonderful music to him for the rest of his life and he will agree to marry me and all my problems would be solved and I’d never have to use my brain again. (N.B this isn’t true at all, but I do play my harp with the window open sometimes) 

Anyhow, it is the view out of my window that is the best bit about where I live. When I found this adobe I was INCREDIBLY worried that it is north facing. South facing abodes offer more vitamin D, you see. The view from the window makes up for the lack of direct sunlight. It looks out over a large churchyard, framed by three trees that mark out the seasons with their green leafy, red leafy and completely leafless dances.

The first Sunday I woke here, I was woken up by the sound of bells ringing. I have been woken up by the same sound every Sunday since. Not one bell, but many different tones. To this day I haven’t worked out if they’re real or recorded. I’ve investigated length by traipsing around the churchyard to see if I can find the source of the noise. I’ve never had the nerve to ask the priest because he is catholic and I fear he might not appreciate my bell fascination, but merely tell me that I’m destined for hell.

I might say…

“Well well well well well
Mr priest. I want to enquire about that bell.
I might be going straight to hell
but I wanna know about that bell.
It wakes me every Sunday, oh priest will you please tell,
I don’t care about my afterlife I wanna know about that bell”

It is driving me mad. For sure, I am gonna get my microphone out of that window when it gets a bit warmer and record the thing.

I love where I live. I’m recording my third album here, in the main. I don’t feel at home anywhere else, literally. I can spend hours and hours with my headphones on, might as well be on another planet. If the church outside my window was to explode or set on fire, I wouldn’t notice if I was in the middle of recording some idea or other. I hope that doesn’t happen. I’m about as far away from being a Christian as a person could be, but I do love looking out upon that churchyard. 

Parcel Envy.

I’m jealous of ‘Miss Bell’, who lives upstairs from me.
She’s always getting packets, parcels and postcards, you see.
Does she spend her days online, buying things she doesn’t need?
Or has she friends that love her so much, they send presents constantly?
While I open up my gas bill from the energy company,
She’s receiving flowers, boxes and colourful letters to read,
I’m jealous of ‘Miss Bell’, who lives upstairs from me,
So I’ll send myself a golden hat and a tonne of lapsang tea.
She’ll see my parcels in the hall way, her eyes will turn all green,
Oh, I’m jealous of ‘Miss Bell’, who lives upstairs from me. 

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Red Wine Risotto At Dusk.

The last of the evening sun arched with an aching beauty over the silhouetted mountains. Light that was strong enough to see by was long gone, just a glow from beyond the horizon. Down by the campsite, the lake was catching the reflection of the moon. It looked like a shoal of iridescent fish darting around on top of the water. I’m sure I even heard a bat squeaking, although I've been reliably informed that this is not possible for a pair of human ears.

I was in one of my favourite places. I spent the evening making red wine risotto down at the foot of the very mountains I had climbed that day. That evening’s beauty will never be matched.

I don’t want to carry on with this story. I don’t know where I’m going with it. I still haven’t cleaned the olive oil off my gas camping stove or rectified the whole affair with myself. 

It is hard not to become embittered isn't it? When you possess a romantic view of the world, one finds that reality rarely lives up to it. There are bills to pay. There are dentist appointments to make. You can’t go around lighting sparklers when it isn’t bonfire night. I am very aware of the holes in my ability to accept reality.  

As I reach my late twenties, I’m more confused about everything that I’ve ever been before.  Last year I realized that there is only one thing that I’m certain of - that my life is certainly not going to pan out in any way I can possibly imagine right now.

I thought that by my age I might have just started to settle into some kind of proper career, with prospects and direction. I though I might have met some level headed man who might want to purchase a washing machine with me. I though I’d have a ginger coloured cat and a piano that I only played on Sundays. I’ve learned that none of these things are to be the case. Apart from the piano – I do have a piano but I play it all the time, not just on Sundays. I nearly got a cat but it turns out I’m allergic to them.

Life is not all red wine risotto at dusk. Sometimes it is more like butter-less mashed potato at midday. It is very potato like at the moment. So today I went to see a film at the cinema on my own. It wasn’t the most moving story I’ve ever come across but the way it was shot, the soundtrack, the colours and the movement – It made my heart glow and a few tears crept down my face. 

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Tell Me, What Is True Love?.

Last summer brought with it a lot of free time for me. I didn’t tour or play festivals, I just stayed in Manchester and wrote a lot of music. It was the happiest summer I’ve experienced so far, even though I was nursing a bit of heartache. I’m always nursing some kind of heartache though - I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Many a day saw me sat on my front doors step in the sunshine. There is a primary 
school across the road from my home and you can hear the little people running about and shouting in their break times. Often I’d read a book or I’d sit there gazing up at the tops of the trees. Sometimes I'd just write or daydream. 

There isn't really a garden where I live, but there are some shrubs and a path that leads down to the road. One day I bobbed out to the record shop down the road. It’s a great record shop and I’d often meet with my record collecting friend for a coffee whilst I was out. There is a place that sells plants opposite the record shop. Gardening is something I know little about, but as I passed the plant shop, I came across this rhododendron tree type thing. I was beguiled. It wasn’t a normal kind of love. I didn’t feel that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with it, or that we could make beautiful children together, but nevertheless I think it’s safe to say that I loved it. It had tiny little pink flowers all over it and it was the perfect size and shape. It was for sale at the price of £4.50. I had a fiver in my purse so I bought it and brought it home with me.  

For only two days did the little tree accompany me on the door step in the sunshine. It made a wonderful addition to my afternoons and I watered it and found it a lovely pot to sit it.  I came down one morning to find it gone. One of two things had obviously happened. Either it had felt emotionally trapped by my affection and decided to run away, or else it had been nicked.  I suppose that the latter is the more likely of the two.  Maybe someone had seen me with it, smiling and whiling away the hours, become jealous and decided that they wanted it for themselves.

Doubt began to occur in my heart. Was it all for nothing? How can such beauty just
disappear in the blink of an eye? All I’d wanted was to brighten up the doorstep, not just for me, but for everyone who passed by. Some crooked person had ruined all of that. Where was my tree now? In a skip somewhere? On someone else’s doorstep? £4.50 is a price to high for broken hope.

Nevertheless, I became philosophical about the matter. It was the only way. Maybe someone else was spending time with my tree now, but they would never love it in the same way I did. My love was a pure love, not shaken the vicissitudes of life. Even though the tree was gone, my doorstep was all the more lovely for having once housed it. Even though the leaves and the petals were now not visible to me, and I could no longer smell the pink flowers, the memory it made me feely happy. It was never going to stay forever anyway. Maybe, even, I might have become complacent and forgotten to admire it after a while. I would have seen it become old, bitter and withered. In my mind it will forever be young and full of flowers. 

Message to the thief. - You might think you’ve got yourself a nice Rhododendron tree for free but you’ll never truly enjoy its beauty. 

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Yorkshire Man Abroad.

My first trip to France was pretty weird. I played in Brittany mostly. It was hot, as I recall. It’s hard to remember all the places I went to and in what order, but I remember my trip to Le Château-Gontier like one might remember a strange and fantastical dream from one’s childhood.

I was moving around by train, usually Id be met at the platform by someone who’d take me to the venue. It might have been Angers train station, or Laval, or some station with a wonderful, round sounding name. In any case, I was met there by a man called George, who did not speak a word of English. I’d go so far as to say he did not speak at all. I don’t speak French but I tried to on the hour long drive from the train station to the venue, and he just smiled. Maybe the French don’t notice awkward silences but I certainly did.

We finally arrived in the little village of Le Château-Gontier. The venue was a small bar with an old knackered piano in the corner. I set my stuff up. There were quite a few people milling around, they all seemed like nice folk but I wasn’t sure because they were all speaking, impenetrably, in French. I was completely in the dark as to what was going on.

Through complicated charades, I explained that I wished to know where I was going to be sleeping. They showed me up some stairs and into a room directly above the bar. The room had nothing in it but a bed and a pair of giant gollywogs. I know that is not a politically correct term. They were two statues, like the badges you used to get with jam, a woman and a man, and they were life size.  Suppose all I can say about that is that I wouldn’t have them in my house.

I had some time to kill before the show so I went for a wander into the village. I bought myself a range of croissants from a most darling little Patisserie, and meandered into a church. It was all white, inside and out, and it was cool and quiet. It was completely empty of human life. Many candles burned silently at the alter. I sat in there for quite some time, listening to echo of nothing and enjoying a rest from the heat of the day. 

After a while I moved on, and I think I must have ended up in the centre of the village. There were many people gathered, watching something, I picked my way through them and saw that there was some kind of outdoor theatre going on. There were three adults dressed as school children on the stage, the “boys” seemed to be picking on the “girl” who’s hair was in pig tails. She had freckles drawn on her cheeks and she was crying and shouting and throwing her arms around.

There I was, standing in the dazzling French heat amongst loads of very Frenchy French people, in a tiny French village full of French things, when I heard the voice of a Yorkshire man. Granted, his Yorkshire was a little bit Frenchy, but he was, unmistakably, from Yorkshire. I ran up to him and shouted “are you from Yorkshire!?” He answered in the affirmative.

When I was born I had to go in an incubator for a few days because I was early. I sometimes wonder if the nurses put a hint of a hallucinogenic drug cloud into my breathing apparatus because wherever I go I always come across weird scenes like this one.  It doesn’t seem to happen like that for some people.

On walking back to the venue, unexpectedly, the Tour De France rode past me. LOADS of men on bicycles, dressed in lycra. Police cars, motorbikes with loud speakers, ambulances, the whole thing. I had to wait for ages to get across the little street. It’s not often that I feel like I might faint in disbelief, but I certainly felt it at that moment. I’m honestly not making it up.

After I’d played the show, I spent the whole evening talking to the Yorkshire man. He’d lived in Le Château-Gontier for many years. It had been love had led him there and he had two French daughters. I found out everything about the local people and he acted as an interpreter and helped me order my favourite drinks from the bar. I ended up pretty tipsy, and I fell to sleep in the strange room above the empty bar as the glass washing machine hummed and swished into the early hours.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Pau and the Penguin.

On arrival at Challes de Gaulle airport and I'd instantly wanted to give up on life. No offence to Parisians, but that airport is truly awful. Paris was really cold but I was just passing through on my way south. I imagined that my world would soon be warming up in accord with the direction I was going, so I didn’t worry too much that I hadn’t brought any winter wear.

When I was asked to play in Pau, I’d gotten excited because it is alleged to have one of the most beautiful views of the Pyranees going. I imagined I might stay an extra day and hang out, wearing a beret. It didn’t work that way due to my relentless travel schedule. Gutted though I was at the fact I would not get chance to stare at the mountains, I still had hope. My hope was for warm weather. England was bleak and dark. I was certain that France would provide me with some heat. I was headed for southern France and it was nearly springtime.

But it was snowing. I hadn’t packed the right clothing at all. I spent the whole tour shivering. Rail was my chosen method of transport due to the fact I had to cover masses of miles in a short space of time. I was sat on a train for about 8 hours each day. It was exhausting and I didn’t thaw out completely at any point.  Tiredness makes you cold.  It was already pretty cold, and I got more tired as the week went on.

The coldness had really gotten inside in Lyon. I went out to buy myself a sweater before the gig. A distraction came in the form of a piano workshop that I happened upon. There were a million broken pianos in all stages of disrepair, as well as harpsichords and other variations on the theme. I gazed in through the window for a long time, which meant I only had time to find myself an awful hoody which was not a flattering colour on me. I’d wanted to find a woolen thing with patterns on.

The gig was on a boat with no heating. My hands could hardly press the piano keys down, let alone strum the guitar efficiently. I wore every item of clothing that I had with me, caring little for how I looked - I looked pretty bad. My stage outfit included a pair of fingerless mittens and the unflattering hoody. My nose was bright red and running profusely.  Everything - my mittens, my top, my nose - clashed with each other in a horrid amalgamation of red and pink. 

From Lyon I travelled to Pau as I watched snow covered olive trees pass me by. There was a woman sat in the next seat who spent the whole of the journey putting make up on, and a man opposite me who got off at every station to have a cigarette, then hurriedly got back on as the doors beeped their way to closure.

My friend was playing the same gig as me in Pau. I didn’t know him that well at the time, but from the moment I met him I couldn’t help but act like a child. I don’t know why - some people have that effect on me. 

Sometimes I think that I subconsciously try and sabotage my own gigs. I came across a large stuffed penguin in the backstage room. The gig was about to take place in a fancy theatre. The audience were seated and waiting in hushed anticipation. I goaded my friend until he agreed to walk onto the stage with the giant penguin under his arm, prop the penguin up at the piano and then walk off again. My memory of Pau has nothing to do with the Pyranees, but everything to do with the giant stuffed penguin.

The next day I got up before the crack of dawn and set off to Brittany. Rennes is a university town. That was my second trip to the town. I always feel a little bit uneasy in university towns. I feel that, on first glance, I could well be taken to be a student, but put me in a university town and I am out of my element.

After that I had to get on a few more trains. The railway system in France seems a little austere to my eyes. There are all different kinds of tickets, and there will often be two trains that look the same, smell the same and sound the same - they might be leaving at the same time, going to the same place, but if you get on the wrong one then you’ll be ejected at the first possible moment. Even those who speak French seem to be utterly confused by this. Quite often I’d be stood on a platform, feeling secure in the understanding that I was waiting for the right train in the right place. Then a bell would sound and everyone else would start sprinting around. When this happened I wasn’t sure if I should also start sprinting around. As I didn’t know where to sprint too I would generally just walk around in a circle and return to where I started. My usual way of guessing which train to get on would be to find someone who looked like they might, by chance, be going where I was going, and just follow them. By the end of it, my sleep had become pervaded by rail-related dreams, and I had imaginary trains circulating around my cranium like cartoon birds.

The tour ended up back in the grimness of Challes de Gaulle airport – my flight home was severely delayed. I waited it out. Alone, I sat next to a big, squeaking, 80’s style, space station, lunar inspiration, 'stand and stare in incredulous ovation' -esque escalator for six hours. Oh how gay it was in Paris that day.