The SatNav

“No change from yesterday?”

“No.  None at all”


The satnav shows a dark blue line; an almost straight line disappearing at the edge of the screen – and yet – constantly growing as the vehicle, a red triangle, though remaining constant, eats up what must be the road.  Edging the blue line, pale yellow roads veer off – my eye attempting but failing to read their names.  Green blocks of colour represent forests, or pale blue – lakes; rivers and streams flow past, never reaching the sea.  I suppose I should look around me, but something keeps my eyes glued to the small curved screen perched on the dashboard.

Where are we going?  I really don’t know.  And feel I cannot ask.  I am the mute passenger, strapped into my seat belt and being taken, I can only assume, to a destination I am unaware of.   I don’t mind this at all; in fact, it is relaxing – comforting – somewhat reassuring. Passivity sweeps over me and I let myself be driven.

After some minutes of staring at the screen, almost hypnotised by the red triangle eating up the ever-growing dark blue line I glance out of the window.  No hint of recognition, no familiarity at all.  And yet – the endless treadmill of the road, just like it’s dark blue representation, is reassuring.  All roads look similar, and the verges and hedges have a consoling sameness too.  Even those dark tunnels that overhanging trees make or the wide vistas, suddenly opening up like some flower as the sun warms it, hold no real surprise.  It all seems one, one winding and slowly unfolding ribbon – just like the screen, which I never tire of – the road is all.  This dark blue line on the tiny screen fills my consciousness.

“Just a few minutes more”

“But maybe if I stay something will change.”


But the line continues on its flat journey across the screen, an ever growing, never changing line.  Representing nothing.


Glancing to my left I notice we are approaching something, for the first time I am aware of change.  The satnav shows the same dark blue line but the red triangle – me, I can only assume, is almost at the edge of an expanse of pale blue.  Then my vision is distracted by thick black zig-zagging on both sides of whatever vehicle I must be travelling in.  Slowly the criss-cross patterns space out and I realise that we must be on a bridge.  I hadn’t considered that we might cross a river.  I cannot see the water, maybe it is too far below us.  What is on the other side?   I don’t have the energy or even the curiosity to try to work it out.  I am in safe hands, I know that.  No danger of dropping over the edge.  I look back at the satnav and am reassured that we are approaching what I can only suppose is the far shore.  I relax and close my eyes.  But even closed I can still see the dark blue line we are travelling on.  Maybe my eyes have been shut the whole journey.  It doesn’t really matter.  All that matters, is that we keep moving.  I am reassured by the absence of any small chequered flag hovering somewhere in the distance of the little screen.  I really don’t want this journey to end.  As long as we are travelling, I feel safe; as long as I can see the dark blue trail spooling out before me, I have nothing to fear.  I can relax.  I can even sleep knowing no dreams will come to disturb the calm image of the red triangle, which must be me and the blue ribbon I am threaded on.



“Time to go now”

“I know, I was just hoping – you know.”

“We must continue to hope.  Sometimes hope is all we have.”



I must have drifted, maybe I was sleeping.  Trouble is, I don’t really know when I am asleep or awake.  It all feels the same.  My eyes begin to focus once more.  The screen emerges out of dim greyness.  The satnav rises to meet me, the blue line is still there and so am I – the red triangle. We seem to be moving slower now.  Maybe we are hitting traffic.  Traffic?  I wonder what that looks like?  But I cannot, I dare not look away from the satnav.  If I do the blue line might stop, the red triangle which is me, might stop too.  Or even worse to imagine – not be there at all.  Then I might not exist.  I only know I am here because the sat nav shows me.  I have no sensations, no consciousness of being save as the red triangle moving more slowly now along the dark blue ribbon.  I stare hard at the screen and I am shocked to see that we, I, the red triangle – has stopped.  The blue line is not growing any more. No motion, no reassuring engines hum, no gentle rumble of tyres on tarmac.  We have stopped.  I have stopped.  I am frightened now.  Is this the end?  The end of my journey.  I felt safe while we were travelling, while the satnav was eating up the road, the blocks of green and blue, the occasional chequered railway line passing under our road.  But now all is quiet.  I feel as if my time is up.  Maybe this really is the end.  You know – my death.  We all know it is coming, we just don’t know when.  All is stillness.  I cannot see the screen anymore, where has the satnav gone?  How am I ever going to find my way back, get back home, without the satnav.  I must try harder.  I just want to see its dark blue line unfolding again, I’ve got to find it, I just need to know I am still alive.


“There.  His eyelid was flickering.  Nurse, come quick. I think he’s waking up.”


My Record Collection 87

Dylan – The Bootleg Series 2

Volume 7 – No Direction Home – this was linked to a film by Scorcese, which was actually beyyer yhan the CD as it had a long interview with Dylan.  The album is a bit of a ragtag of alternate and rare live tracks of Dylan up to 1966.  Interesting but not really essential.

Volume 8 – Tell-Tale Signs.  Not so bad.  This focuses on alternate takes of albums from ‘Oh Mercy’ to ‘Modern Times’.  Pleasant listening but again not really adding anything to the story

Volume 9 – The Witmark Demos.  These were tapes which Dylan made at his music publisher’s Witmark.  They were on tape and were very simple one take renditions of Dylan’s compositions – many of which were never recorded in the studio.  An incredible treasure trove – and a completely relaxed Bob, chatting in between songs and breaking down and abandoning a couple too.  Too many brilliant songs to really pick any out – but a great listen – you really feel as if you are in the room with Bob.  One of the very best of the Bootleg series.

Volume 10 – Another Self Portrait.   These were out-takes of songs and other tracks, never released,  for Dylan’s most mis-understood album .  Also a few out-takes from Nashville-Skyline and even New Morning songs.  All I can say is I love this stuff.  It sounds genuine, honest and is a different low-key Dylan, where the quality of the songs shine through.  Some of the songs are originals, discarded like so many others, some are obscure folk songs that Magpie Bob collects and some are old standards.  Doesn’t matter – a really nice treasure trove of stuff.

Volume 11 – The Basement Tapes Raw.  Well, I didn’t really like The Original Basement Tapes which are from 1967 to 1969 but released in 1975.  Too many throw-away songs with childish lyrics and bad production.  To be honest this isn’t that much better, though more songs, some of which appeared on later albums.  But not my favourite period – still, ever the completist I had to have them.

Volume 12 – The Cutting Edge.  These are out-takes from 1965 and ’66. , from the albums gighway 61 and Blonde on blonde a few earlier songs.  Alternate versions of some of his greatest songs and a couple that didn’t quote make it too.   A great albukm but with few surprises really, many of the alternate takes are quite similar to the finished ones.  But an enjoyable listen anywyay.

Volume 12 – Trouble No More.  This was a double CD (as most of the Bootleg series were) of live songs from Bob’s “Religious” period.   Never my favourite run of albums – though Slow Train was brilliant, I didn’t really like Saved.  Mind you, if you can discount the overtly political messages in the lyrics, the tunes are pretty good.  These live versions are classic rock’n’roll style which Bob had drifted into in the late 70’s – with a big band, horns and a girlie chorus.  Still he is in brilliant voice on these live tracks.  And there is a conviction in his voice that is unmistakable.  A handful of rarities too – but ultimately this is not among my favourites – it is almost pure gospel with call and response choruses.  Too much preaching.  Still.

Volume 13 – More Blood, More Tracks.  And I haven’t even listened to this yet  – too many other live records….

The Best of The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 12

My Record Collection 86

Dylan – The Bootleg Series 1

In 1992 a ‘new’ Dylan album came out.  It was a triple and called The Bootleg Series – Voliume 1-3.  There had been quite a few bootlegs of early Dylan recordings and concerts so CBS decided to trawl through their archives and produce their own well packaged and cleaned up bootleg.  Over the years this has continued.  I have bought every one – some excellent, some not quite so good.  But they have charted an alternative Dylan.  He was notorious for rejecting songs and recordings which he felt weren’t right and many tracks were simply discarded in his headlong trajectory.  The first 3 albums are quite special, as they are mostly new or unheard songs.

Volume 1 is mostly very early stuff.  A few live versions and some great ‘talking blues’ songs like ‘Talking John Birch’ and ‘Great Bear Mountain Picnic’.  And most of the tracks Bob rejected (at the last minute) from his Freewheelin album.  This, admittedly long disc would have made two great single albums back in the early 60’s.   It seems Bob was writing songs almost daily and could afford to discard so many; The Beatles by contrast recorded almost every song they wrote.

Volume 2 – takes us through to Blood on the Tracks.  Again some great number simply left off albums and a few different versions.  Best songs ‘Mama You Been On My Mind’ and ‘Farewell Angelina’, and ‘I’ll Keep it With Mine’.

Volume 3  – is the late Seventies and the Eighties.   Again, almost unbelievable that such great songs were just left along the way – ‘Golden Loom’, ‘Tell me’, ‘Foot of Pride’ – and best of all ‘Series Of Dreams’ – especially when many of the records he was releasing in the Eighties were pretty dire.  Oh well.  And at least we have them now.

Seven years later and we got Volume 4.  This is the legendary 1966 Royal Albert Hall Concert, when Bob did half the show Accoustic and then brought on the band for hard rock and roll.  It is famous for the ‘Judas’ shout from the audience and Bob’s reply ‘I Don’t Believe You’.  In fact this show was recorded at Manchester Free Trade Hall, a few days before the RAH show.  It had been bootlegged in poor sound quality, but this release was from the soundboard and is crystal sharp and brilliant.  As a record of just how exciting Bob could be live it is hard to equal.   It is also quite hard to realise that this was in 1966, when the Charts were full of pretty ditties and soft ballads.  I am not saying that Bob invented Rock, but he certainly laid out a pretty good template.

Volume 5  – is a live concert from the first leg of The Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975, when Bob went on the road with a collection of musicians, Joan Baez, Joni, Mick Ronson and Roger McGuinn.  He had released Hard Rain in late ’76 which was from the second half of the tour and is generally considered a bit weaker.  A great double CD, very exciting and simply superb versions of many of his classic songs.  A great short solo set from Joan too.  Slowly these few concerts and the two albums which preceeded it are being recognized as almost a second wind.  In fact in many ways this was even better than the Sixties stuff; the songs were more mature, the melodies subtler and this period is definitely my favourite.  In fact I have just ordered a 14 disc box set of Rolling Thunder with lots of rehearsal stuff and different songs on different days….can’t wait to start listening to it.

Volume 6 – Is a Halloween solo concert 1964 with a guest appearance form Joan Baez.  Bob was in the first flush of real success; he was still the darling of the Folkies, he hadn’t gone electric yet.  And he was brilliant, so accomplished, so comfortable, so good.  And funny.  Yes, he was really funny, laughing between songs and even when he forgot the words to one of his songs.  The audience loved him – no chants of Judas this time, just adulation.  A great set with quite a few of his early songs.  A great record, which had been planned to go out officially but was pulled because Bob was writing and recording so much other stuff in these early years.  Best song – ‘Mama you been on my mind’

The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare And Unreleased) 1961-1991


My Record Collection 85

Dylan in the 21st Century                              

Bob has occasionally mentioned that, though he is credited with revolutionizing the modern song format – especially in his brilliant poetic lyrics, he has always loved older songs, especially the blues and popular standards of the fifties and before.  He is an avid collector of early recordings and has released two earlier albums of old ‘folk’ songs (World Gone Wrong and Good As I Been To You).  And in the Twenty-first Century he has more and more returned to these early blues, both lyrically and in the sound his band has recorded.

In 2001 he released “Love and Theft”.  Here was Bob in full early rockabilly style, the band rolling along and his lyrics cryptically almost whispered above the band – as if the words had just popped into his head.  He seems to have lost his nasal intonation and his emphasizing certain words, preferring a ‘band-leader’ boogie-woogie style.  A good album, though many hard-core fans might have been disappointed.  Best songs ‘Mississippi’, ‘Po’ Boy’ and ‘Sugar baby’.  But the album is almost a continuum with little to distinguish one song from another.  For me too, I am still really familiarizing myself with these later albums – the songs don’t quite resonate with me as the old ones do.  Maybe this is an inevitable consequence – the more we listen to albums (I must have heard the Beatles songs hundreds of times) the more they sink into our consciousness.  That is why we love the old songs so much.  But all in all a pleasant album, and self-written – even if he has used lines and melodies here and there from older blues songs.  Five years later he released what may be considered a companion piece Modern Times. Again an old-fashioned sounding record, relying on old blues stylings and an almost big band swing style.  I am not sure if I really like this ‘Dylan’, it is interesting and his voice is still hypnotic but somehow the words don’t stick in my brain anymore.  Pleasant enough but not remarkable.  But Dylan seems relaxed in this style, though live he still cranks out the old stuff, though often with completely new melodies. Best songs ‘Spirit on the Water’, ‘Workingmans Blues’ and ‘Nettie Moore’.  The records were getting further apart and yet, they sold really well.  As if the public had re-discovered Dylan.  And of course being Dylan he was certain to disappoint them soon.  The third, in what might be described a trilogy (though Dylan would surely disagree) is Together Through Life (2009).  Again a fairly old-fashioned sounding record, but the tunes seemed better to me.  The songs were co-written with Robert Hunter and sound better, more rounded – and the words are better too, best songs – ‘My Wife’s Hometown’ and ‘If You Ever Go To Houston’.  A few of the songs have a sort of Cajun arrangement which was interesting.  I kept faith with Bob through these years, hoping that things would improve, that he might return to his old style – but it seemed in vain; Bob was set in his ways and after almost 40 albums was at last doing exactly what he wanted to do.  Even to the extent of later that same year releasing a mawkish and sentimental Christmas In The Heart.  Obviously his personal favourites, hymns and all.  Oh Well.  And the award for turkey of his career rests here.

2012 saw Tempest.  Another timeless sounding record; Bob’s gravelly voice weaving hypnotic spells over simple backing.  Not bad songs but nothing really memorable;  ‘Early Roman Kings’ is nearest to his old style though I have no idea what the song is about.  ‘Tin Angel’ is pretty good too.  Another long rambling song about the film Titanic and the real sinking of that ship – Tempest.  And a song about John Lennon too.  I liked this record more than the last few, something about it was appealing.  Maybe he was getting his Mojo back.  We waited – but in vain.

As has happened a few times before Bob returned to his roots and next gave us an album of standards; Shadows in The Night.  And despite trying I just don’t like it.  These are all songs recorded by Sinatra between 56 and 62.  So what?  Firstly Dylan does not have a great voice (except surprisingly on Nashville Skyline); he has a very expressive voice, he emphasizes key words in songs – his own songs of course.  We love him for his great songwriting and his way of singing.  But it just doesn’t work when he tries to sing like Sinatra.  Nobody can sing quite like Sinatra anyway, least of all Bob.  Okay, he has earned the right to sing exactly what he wants – we, his fans do not need to like it.  The best thing about it is the record was only 35 minutes long.

Two years later he followed this with Fallen Angels.  Another album of old standards – though at least these were much more well known – but the same dull voice and arrangements.  And even worse two years late we got Triplicate – 3 cds worth of the same.  (Ihave ordered it but it remains unlistened and I suspect unlistenable).  So, that is that from his bobness.  We wait….but not with much expectation.  However the story does not end there….

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My Record Collection 84

Dylan – The Nineties

How relevant were any of the Sixties heroes in the nineties.  Whole generations had grown up considering them to be their parents music; most could not name The Beatles or The Stones, let alone know who Dylan was.  And yet still a hard-core fanbase existed, determined to keep faith with a very erratic Messiah.  And Bob started the Nineties on a high after Oh mercy – and yet he released only a year later probably his worst album of all – though that is debatable.  Under The Red Sky was pretty dire – childish lyrics, lazy delivery and no real focus.  Oh dear. No notable songs either.  How much worse could it get…

Well it depends on your opinion.  Bob released two albums of old folk and blues songs in the early nineties. He has admitted he had writers block and went back to America’s roots.  The albums are completely acoustic, which is just Bob, his guitar and harmonica – and the voice is okay too – it is just that the songs (for me anyway) are so boring.  And samey – the albums just drone on with nothing waking me up.  The first was called Good As I Been To You.  Even re-listening now nothing springs to mind about this record. A year late he brought out World Gone Wrong, very similar but at least a couple of half-decent songs this time.  But really they are barely Dylan albums at all.  Later in 93 CBS released what was advertised as a Dylan album – The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration.  This was a concert organized the previous year to celebrate 30 years of Dylan and featured many, mostly American, artists singing Dylan songs.  Bob sings three songs at the end of the ‘concert’.  It is a nice record, but hardly a Dylan album, although it is credited to Bob.  Anyway – it is part of my collection; some good renditions of Dylan songs but Bob himself was in poor voice really.  Oh Well.

Then another live album MTV Unplugged.  And this time it was brilliant .  superb (sort of) acoustic versions of a greatest hits selection including ‘Dignity’ a song left off Infidels but which is better than that whole album.  This really is the best live Dylan album to own.

But just as we were once again beginning to give up on him – would he ever return to something like his old self – he produced out of nowhere another classic album Time Out of Mind 1997. This was again recorded with Daniel Lanois (see L) who seemed to be able to get the best out of Bob.  Great songs again – especially ‘Love Sick’, ‘Tryin’ to get to Heaven’ and ‘Make You Feel my Love’ (later covered by Adele among others.  The album finishes with another of his strange rambling songs which are long and almost impenetrable, and yet are hypnotic too ‘The Highlands’  All in all a great record and a great way to end the decade and the Century.  What awaited us in the 21st Century none of us knew but with Dylan you had to be prepared for anything

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My Record Collection 83

Dylan – Lost In The Eighties

Ah, the dreaded Eighties, when a whole new wave of younger artists arrived, toting their credentials and full of enthusiasm in the certain knowledge that they would put these 60’s dinosaurs to bed.  The old attempt to record a near exact live performance with four or maybe eight tracks was now blown away by 32 and 64 track technology and synths that could (sort of) reproduce any instrument, drum machines to keep prefect and sterile time – what was the creative artist to do?  At first Dylan tried to keep up, but he notoriously hated the tedium of recording.  His method had always been to add a few unusual ingredients and see what magic occurred.  His late eighties albums simply got worse and worse.  1985 saw Empire Burlesque, a mish-mash of an album, garnered from several failed attempts to record a new batch of songs with various session players and producers; Bob opting to produce himself (badly) in the end.  If he was searching for a new sound he never found it, and mostly the songs just weren’t up to his usual standard.   Or maybe this was his new standard, if so, we were waiting in vain.  No songs really stand out on this rather poor album.

And by some serendipity CBS decided to issue a major retrospective; the three album Biograph came out in 1985.  A sort-of retrospective but with a few unreleased songs and spectacular live performances.  A fantastic collection – and it really served to point up the current poor quality of both Dylan’s songs and his performances.  One almost wonders why he didn’t simply give up there and then.  But Dylan always was a persistent bugger, and he carried on.  Biograph contained a few ‘new’ old songs – ‘I’ll keep it with mine’, ‘Percy’s Song’, the splendid ‘Abandoned Love’ and ‘Caribbean Wind’ (both from Blood on the Tracks sessions) and ‘Up To Me’ – plus some scorching live versions.  A great album – well worth having.

But it was as if this simply passed Dylan by – he seemed oblivious of his past, fixated on the ‘Eighties’ sound.  In 1986 he released ‘Knocked Out Loaded’ – and it was pretty awful; lacklustre songs, cover versions and reworked out-takes.  But it is redeemed by one brilliant songs ‘Brownsville Girl”; this is one of his long rambling songs, almost nonsense but with a great chorus.  Apart from that, a poor album.

Dylan seemed locked in, incapable of writing great songs, chugging out live performances where he messed up both the tunes and the vocals of his old hits.  Strangely, though his records didn’t sell well he was still filling stadiums.  In ’88 he released two albums; Down In The Groove; another very underachieving record – only notable song was ‘Silvio’, but even that was hardly great.  He also released Dylan and the Dead. Yet another live album, this time from a short tour with The Grateful Dead – un-notable even with Gerry Garcia’s sublime guitar notes; simply retreading poorly – much better album tracks.  Even I, a hardened Dylan fan was beginning to despair – was he ever going to write another great song, make a semi-decent record even.  Then in 1989 he spent a couple of months with Daniel Lanois (see L), a Southerner and a subtle record producer who had recently worked with U2.  Apparently, the recordings went badly with Dylan nearly walking away, but Daniel persisted and at last dragged out some great performances and a superb album Oh Mercy.  Dylan’s voice sounded world weary and the songs were slower and about the passage of time and mortality.  Somehow the old magic had returned and despite an awful cover the album sold much better than his recent stuff.  Best songs ‘Ring Them Bells’ ‘Man In The Long Black Coat’ and ‘Shooting Star’; but really not a bad song on the record.   To help promote the album, which CBS suddenly realized was really good, a special promo CD (limited edition – but I have a copy) was issued  – Forever Young.   This is a Greatest Hits plus a few tracks from Oh Mercy – and very good it is too.

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My Record Collection 82

Dylan – The Christian Years

Dylan discovered Religion in 1978, or rather Religion discovered Dylan.  He was born a Jew, though not such a strict family, but his songs are littered with Old Testament allusions, especially John Wesley Harding.  And now Dylan was a Christian.  He couldn’t help his own honesty; he simply had to write songs about it.  Slow Train Coming came out in 1979 and upset many of his fans.  Though the music and the songs were superb – some of his best – they couldn’t see through the words.  The album does feature ‘religious’ songs, but I don’t think they are so obviously so. The record opens with ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ – never mentioning just who.  Mark Knopfler was invited to play guitar and his soft notes enlighten the sometimes harsh words.  Best songs are ‘I Believe In You’ where Bob’s voice is enthralling, and ‘When He Returns’.  But there isn’t a poor song on the record.  Many fans hoped that this was a one-off, only to be really disconcerted by his next offering, with it’s lurid sleeve, Saved, was un-apologetically ramming home the Christian Message.   And really it fails because of that.  It isn’t that the songs are bad, though the backing is heavy and clunky, and re-listening it isn’t that awful.  But this is Dylan – and not that bad is faint damming praise indeed.  Mind you compared to a few of his mid-eighties albums it at least had some decent songs. ‘Covenant Woman’ is really quite good, as is ‘What Can I Do For You’ – but I never really liked it.  The following year, 1981, and Shot of Love appeared; the third of his Christain records – and really it is quite good.  Terrible cover again, but the songs a re far more varied and not all are ‘Religious’.  A much more varied collection of songs too, different arrangements, less girlie choruses, a bit more like the old Dylan.  Best songs – ‘Heart of Mine’, ‘Lenny Bruce is Dead’ and the classic ‘Every Grain of Sand’.  I really quite like this record despite the 80’s production.

Two years later and Bob asked Mark Knopfler to produce his next album Infidels.  And as the title suggests this was quite a reactionary record, railing against foreigners taking American jobs.  A bit of a surprise – but despite some of the sentiments it is really quite a good album, full of anger and rage   But even so, some of the pro-Israeli and protectionist US sentiments don’t sit comfortably with the Dylan of old.  Best songs – ‘Sweetheart Like You’, ‘Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight’ and the quite superb ‘Jokerman’.   But the curse of the Eighties was about to hit…

Before that we have a dire live album Real Live, which was rushed out to fill a marketing gap and is pretty poor.   Although on re- listening, maybe it isn’t quite so bad.   Dylan, no doubt tired of playing his old songs came up with different arrangements, tempos and even words sometimes.  I much prefer the originals – but Dylan considered that each live performance was part of the creative experience too.  Anyway, one too many live albums in my mind.

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The Writing Group

She looked up at the big station clock.  Five to twelve…oh dear.  Only five minutes to get her ticket to Lewes.  What a bore, there was bound to be a queue.  And, of course, a part of her didn’t really want to go.  If only she had the nerve to have said “No”. But she never seemed brave enough to say what she really wanted, besides Leonard loved these weekends away.  She decided not to rush, ducking into the Corner House she ordered a cup of tea; she would take a later train.

She just needed a little time on her own, time to think, time to be herself.  Because she was never herself these days, never simply Virginia. Virginia Stephens?   Where had that little girl gone – and of course since her marriage never would she be Stephens again.  She longed sometimes simply to be a single woman, to be on her own again.  It wasn’t that she didn’t love her husband; of course she did, but had she really have had a choice she might have dared to remain single.  But how could one simply be a single woman of thirty or so, here in the Nineteen-Twenties? Simply impossible, and even more confusing and complicated, she suspected, than this strange state of being married.

And these weekends loomed over her like some swaying sword of Damocles.  Oh, the nonsense of it all; the kow-towing to everyone else, the pretence that they were doing something remarkable, something different – when more and more she felt they were simply treading water.  Never really achieving anything; simply living on past glories.  And the group, this almost famous group, which she had always thought of as a writer’s group was being taken over by dabblers, by dilettantes, by adventurers and even, she feared, womanisers.  Oh, if only it had stayed simple – just a few friends and fellow writers meeting at home to discuss books and the love of writing itself.

And her secret hope, trying to find a new form of writing, an open-hearted honest post-war way of putting into words what truly mattered, what one really felt.  But now they had painters and an economist and even a sculptor joining them.  No longer simply a writing group, more some sort of semi-debauched, slightly notorious, society; because they were already being talked about; put down by the straight-laced; and revered by those who considered themselves as somehow ‘modern’.  The newspapers were even calling them a ‘set’ – whatever that is supposed to mean.  Something not very nice at all, she suspects.

And all she wanted to do, all she had ever wanted to do, was to write; to express herself, to describe things.  And not just pretty flowers or landscapes, but people, and especially women.  She longed to tell her story, all her stories, the ones that had crowded her mind since she could ever remember.  She wanted to let people know that you could talk about feelings, love and passion and ecstasy and sadness and desolation, the whole range of emotions; fears, loves and hates, without being ridiculed, without being censored by male publishers.

“Now Virginia, this is all very well, and of course it goes without saying -brilliantly written – but really, you must think of the consequences.  Is this quite what the public wants to read?  And as I say to all my writers ‘Will it sell, my dear, will it sell?’”.

The sad-eyed and weary looking nippy brought the tea, a hideous yellowy brown with just enough hint of scum to put you off, in an awful thick white cup, with the tiniest lump of sugar precariously perched on the saucer like the meagre comfort it represented.  Really, did no-one know how to make a decent cup of tea these days.  And service?  You might as well forget that, ever since the war the whole concept of service had disappeared.  Surliness, sheer rudery everywhere.  It wasn’t that one wanted servitude – just a smile would do.

Oh well.  I suspect her life is pretty hideous too.  At least mine is comfortable I suppose, but little real comfort that gives me.  I am as trapped in my petticoats as she in her pinny; I wonder if she reflects on her pointless life as I do.  Oh, why am I never really happy?  Always far too self-conscious to let myself go and simply enjoy the moment.  Happiness?  That most elusive of states; it is almost as if the realisation of happiness is also its destroyer.  As soon as one feels that one might be actually ‘happy’ – the spell is broken and one’s mind is swamped by those bad thoughts again.  Oh, my bad-dog thoughts, these horrendous harbingers constantly circling my poor tired mind – if only I could dispel them for a few moments.  Just to sit in the sun somewhere with no thoughts at all – how wonderful that might be.

But I never seem to have enough time on my own.  There is always so much to see to; the house, the wretched servants, the bills to be paid.  I was never cut out to be a wife.  All I ever wanted was to be left alone, to have somewhere I could retreat to, a room really – that’s all I have ever wanted.  Somewhere, maybe with a window – a view, a garden to drift into when the words won’t come, a desk, a chair; a vase with a few hand-picked daisies, a handful of books.   And paper.  Of course, heaps, reams of fresh white virgin paper, and my trusty Parker pen.  Just leave me, bolt the door and lock me here for days if you must – but just let me write.

I need to get it all down before it is lost, every passing thought, each delicate whimsical recollection, it is all valuable.  It is all me, all this ‘nonsense whirling around in my head’ – as Leonard smilingly dismisses it – I must find a new way of writing, of capturing what it is to be alive, to be a woman, to be thirty, to have never had and never wanted a child.  But to be an equal to men, a reflection, a counter-balance, not better or worse or superior or subservient – but equal.

Vanessa says that’s all poppycock; but then Vanessa is a painter.  Can anyone tell the sex of the artist from the finished work, are the brush strokes more delicate, the colours more vivid?  But writing – oh those publishers simply label you as a woman’s writer; only fit for other women to read.  But I want everyone to read. Women to know that someone understands us, and has managed to encapsulate how we are – and men to marvel, to wonder at the world we inhabit.

But truly, the group is too large, too many distractions, too much drinking, too much flirting, too little real attempt to create something new.  Maybe I shall simply not go this time, stay home in Bloomsbury; telegram to say I was feeling poorly.  But not too poorly, I don’t want Leonard rushing back and making sure I see a Doctor.  It isn’t a Doctor I need; it is aloneness, it is solitude I crave.

Goodness is that the time.  Must rush, or I will be late.  And the gorgeous Vita will be there this weekend.  I haven’t seen the Sackville-Wests for ages.  My, Vita really is such a beauty.  So vivacious, so outre, so scrumptious.  Why – if I were a man – I could barely resist her.  The way she half-smiles at you, you could just eat her.  Mustn’t think like that though, far too dangerous.  The group is outrageous enough without that sort of thing.

You can never see the nippy when you want her. I’ll just leave tuppence here next to my cup and dash off.  I wonder what we will talk about this time?  Will Lytton be there, with his florid curlicue style, or Forster – just back from India.  I do hope so.  Despite what I sometimes think I do love them all really.  My scatty sister Vanessa and her husband Clive – always predictable Clive.  Dear mad Lytton of course, Keynes the sly old dog and Roger, of course lovely Roger, and my dear long-suffering Leonard.   And the weather is so warm maybe we can spend a few hours on the beach this time.

My, what a difficult and complicated old World.  All these wonderful friends, the special writing group – and yet still I crave a little space, a room even to just sit and write in.

Quick, I must run for the train. and I really cannot face another horrid tea or the sad face of that tired little nippy again.  I must remember her – pop her into a story somewhere.  That downcast little face. Ah here she is.


“Don’t I know you?” the nippy asks, clearing away the crockery “Ain’t I seen your face in the papers?”

“You might have.  I am Virginia, Virginia Woolf.  I am a writer.  Maybe you have read one of my novels.”

“Naah.  Sorry. Never ‘eard of yer.  Must have muddled you up with someone famous”

My Record Collection 81

Dylan – The Glory Years

Well it was 1974, and Dylan hadn’t had a critically well-received album for 9 years – though I loved almost everything he did in the late 60’s.  Where had Dylan gone, where was that surreal poet, that voice of a generation?  Trying to be normal maybe.  Whatever – his marriage to Sara was breaking up and he wrote a batch of songs where he bared his heart, slightly disguised of course.  These are among the best songs he ever wrote, and he recorded them very simply, mostly acoustic guitar, drums and base in the backgaound – and his signature harmonica.  But it is the voice that makes Blood On The Tracks such a superb record.  It is gentle and sad and occasionally raging and yet so expressive – and still that familiar nasal twang which irritated some and thrilled the rest of us.  This really is a wonderful record.  I can’t stop listening to it – as soon as it is finished, I put it back on.  Best songs – all of them really.  We start with ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ followed by ‘A Simple Twist Of Fate’ with his emphasis on the word in the line before rhyming with Fate – simply beautiful.  ‘You’re A Big Girl Now’ tells of a lost love. ‘Idiot Wind’ is a raging angry yet sorry song – one of his best. ‘You’re Gonna make me Lonesome When you Go’ is more cheerful and yet… ‘Meet me In The Morning’ is the only slightly under-par song – but then it is followed by the saga/weird and funny tale of ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’; ‘if You See Her Say Hello’ – the saddest of farewells, and then the monumental ‘Shelter From the Storm’ and ends with the wry reflection on life ‘Buckets Of Rain’.  If anyone out there doubts Dylan – just go on youtube and play Blood On The Tracks.

He followed this with another classic – Desire – the following year.  This was more Spanish in flavor and featured electric violin played by Scarlet Riviera, who he apparently stopped as he was passing in New York; she was carrying a violin case, and he asked her to play on his next album.  Well, she certainly leant a nice flavor to this batch of songs, many co-written with Jacques Levy, who persuaded Dylan to overcome writer’s block by telling stories in his songs.  The best of these is ‘Isis’ – a fantastic tale of tomb-robbing and love and death.  Also a sort-of protest song ‘Hurricane’ about a wrongly jailed black boxer – brilliant lyrics and a great tune. The album also featured ‘One More Cup Of Coffee[ and ‘Oh Sister’, a long track about a gangster ‘Joey’ and a love-letter to recently departed ‘Sara.’  All in all, a wonderful record.  As soon as it was finished in late ’75 Bob convened a group of friends and musicians and begun the Rolling thunder Tour, which was part travelling circus, part concert, part film Dylan was making and a great triumph.  Later in ’76 as the tour ended he released another live album Hard Rain from the tour.  This was superseded years later by one of The Bootleg Series (see much later) and a 14 disc Rolling Thunder Revue set I have just ordered – too much money, too little sense – but hey.  Re-listening though, Hard Rain is still incredible -such different and alive performances – and Dylan seems for the first time in years to be actually enjoying himself.

In 1978 came Street Legal, which critics disliked but I really loved, I saw him at Hammersmith Odeon just after this came out and loved the show.  Dylan was however moving much more into mainstream rock, with girlie choruses and horn sections.  Still this record has some very good songs on it.   The opening number ‘Changing Of The Guard’ is probably my fave, but I also like ‘Baby Please Stop Crying’ and ‘Is Your Love In Vain’.  It is still quite an underrated record – especially considering some of the mid-eighties stuff he recorded.

A live double recorded just before the release of Street Legal came out later in ’78.  At Budokan.  Bob had a world tour in early ’78; this concert was in Japan.  Wow, what a revelation. Bob had started to re-imagine his early songs for a Big Band sound; no longer the harsh aggressive rock and roll of ’66, but a gentler more rounded complete sound.  I love this album, great new arrangements of songs like Tambourine Man.  Just a joy – and if you need any live Dylan album this is the one to get.  But as usual with Dylan – he was always searching.  And in 1979 he found what he thought he was looking for.  George Harrison found Eastern Mysticism but Bob found Jesus.  Born a Jew, he became a Christian – and being Bob, he didn’t do it half-heartedly.  He wrote songs and sung about it. The next few years were the Christian years.

 Bob Dylan At Budokan

Rory Stewart -The Tory Leader After The Next One

Or the one after that maybe.  What has happened to the Tory party, that they can even contemplate making Boris Johnson Prime Minister?  To half the country he is a clown, to the other a scoundrel.  Time was when the Conservatives lived up to their name – they conserved things, they accepted progress in Society and simply held the line against further advances.  Not that I could ever support them, but you felt you could (more or less) live with them being in power now and then.  However, since the Thatcher revolution they are now the destroyers extraordinaire; not content with selling off loads of Public Services, with mostly disastrous consequences, and pushing swathes of decent cheap council housing into the expensive rented sector, they want to destroy the NHS and public education too.  And now a fervour has overtaken them, egged on by a rabid press and billionaires seeking tax avoidance – they are desperate to leave Europe.  No matter what the consequences it seems.  Where once a slow dis-entanglement but still retaining good trade with the EU was planned, now only a complete break will suffice.  The harder the Brexit the happier they seem.

And appeasement has no chance.  The half-reasonable appeals by Hunt and Gove are falling on deaf ears and the pathetic bleats of Javid are simply noises off-stage.  Only Rory speaks with any sense.  He is campaigning just as hard for common-sense and realism – and is pulling no punches either.  He knows, as in their hearts the others must do, that Brexit will be a disaster.  But they are all terrified of Farage and are competing to out-Brexit the arch Brexiteer.  Good Luck with that.

But let us also be realistic.  At the moment Rory stands no chance of winning, and is unlikely to be in the final two, though he may well survive the vote on Tuesday where Raab and Javid will stumble.

One can only hope that at some point common-sense will breakout – but don’t hold your breath.  Maybe after the disaster that Boris will bring on us and losing an election, they will choose him – but we may have to wait a bit longer for that.  The Brexiteers will never admit they were wrong – it will all be someone else’s fault; if only we had been tougher with Europe; if only we had refused to negotiate anything; if only we had listened to them..,(oh, we did, didn’t we)

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