What a Difference a Day Makes

Sunday 8th February

Yesterday it was cold.  No.  Actually it was bloody freezing.  The coldest I have ever known in Eymet.  The temperature dropped to minus 2 degrees Centigrade, but there was a vicious wind  – cut like a knife.  Lowering clouds covered the sky and there were blustery snowflakes in the air which swirled around but refused to settle.  At times the icy wind took your breath away, and we scampered around from shop to shop.  Taking the dogs for a walk was a chore, standing there willing the poor dogs on to do their business.  We stumbled to the Café de Paris and never was Vin Chaud more welcomed.  The little Indian Restauarant Poppies was re-launching tonight and we were invited.  Nice Cremant wine and canapés and the food was delicious.  Homemade Vegetarian curry, sweet potato, courgettes and tomatoes in a light and spicy sauce – really lovely.  We were also booked in to watch the live music at Gambetta and scurried across the square and into the warmth of the tiny pub.  The solo singer, who nobody seemed to quite know who he was, was singing Dylan and Neil Young songs quite well, but conversation was in full swing and the poor guy had no charisma and seemed to be singing into a void.  We met a few old friends and had a lovely evening.  As we left around ten the wind had dropped and it felt a bit milder.

This morning the clouds had dispersed and there was a wide blue sky.  The sun came out and we had a beautiful day.  It was still cold, the temperature hardly rising above six degrees Centigrade but oh, what a difference a day makes.  It almost felt like spring.  We sat in the sun drinking coffee and sharing the best croissant amande in the world at Comptoir M. Kanter and we were basking in a weak but warming sun.  There was absolutely no wind at all, and off came the thick coat and gloves and we turned our faces to the glow of the sun.  Such a gorgeous feeling of contentment; whether it was the sunshine or the superb almond croissant I really don’t know, but at moments like this life doesn’t get much better.

D – is for Dylan – A Tentative New Morning

Saturday 7th February

Suddenly in 1970 Dylan was back, or so the Music papers told us.  A new album with the auspicious title “New Morning” was released only months after the “Self Portrait” debacle.  Well, it was a new start of sorts but quite a patchy record really.  It started off brilliantly with ‘If Not For You’ a real classic – but too many songs fell short of that.  It certainly wasn’t the Dylan we all longed for – a continuation of ‘Blonde on Blonde’ – but it was a new start.


Then there was nothing else and CBS, worried that the expectation created by ‘New Morning’ would fade rushed out a double album  “More Greatest Hits” that included five unreleased songs, which compared to anything on his last few records were brilliant.  “When I paint my masterpiece” and “I shall be released” would go on to be among his fans favourites and we were all amazed he hadn’t released them earlier.


But for three years he again had nothing to say.  Just silence.


It was 1973 when he released his next record, a film soundtrack “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid”.  (He also had a small acting part in the film.)  This was mostly instrumental but was quite beautiful, and had the wonderful “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” on it.  Suddenly there was hope.  If Dylan could still write songs as good as this maybe we only had to wait and the real Dylan would return.

Well another false dawn in 1974; we heard he was going to change labels and make a record with the Band.  “Planet Waves” came out on Island Records and was again a disappointment.  A few good songs such as “Forever Young” but the whole thing sounded stilted and forced, as if Dylan was still trying to find himself.

Dylan then went out on the road with The Band, and a new live album was also rushed out, which again seemed tentative, not fully committed; Dylan’s voice unsure and the songs sounding almost tired.

He then returned to CBS for his next album, and suddenly the Real Dylan we were all waiting for had returned and with possibly his best record ever “Blood on the Tracks”.

What we hadn’t realized was that Dylan was heartbroken.  His marriage to Sara Lowndes was breaking up and he poured his heart out on this record.  There was literally his own blood and tears on the tracks. There had never been anything quite like it, every song was exceptional and it was all of a piece, the songs seemed to flow one to the next all in the same mood.  I love it and even now find it hard to single out any one song above the others.  His voice sounds tortured and true, every word is sung with honesty; it is also full of great melodies and played beautifully.  Dylan was in effect writing one last love letter to Sara and he never made a better record.  But he did come close a few times….

Blood On The Tracks

Back in Eymet

Friday 6th February

It is a really strange feeling, and one I am still slightly confused by and still cannot quite believe.  One spends a couple of hours getting to the airport and then quite a bit of waiting around, your plane is called, you walk to the gate and board the plane.  A bit of organized chaos as everyone finds their seat then you are off.  For an hour and a half you fight the tedium, reading, listening to MP3 player and trying to ignore the frantic selling of the Ryanair Stewardesses.  Then you land and within minutes you are out and in the car and then home.  A different country no less, but a strange familiarity descends as you realise that while you were away in London, busy working or rushing around, nothing much had happened here.  The shops are the same, the French street names are unchanged, even the river Dropt keeps slowly chugging along, green and murky as ever.  It is only you that have been away, everything else has remained the same.  Plus ca change, plus ca meme – I suppose.  But no matter how many time I do the journey I always feel the same; a sort of amazement that everything is still here I suppose.  It all still does seem like a dream in many ways.  I first visited Europe in 1966 with my parents as Dad drove the old Ford Zodiac through France to Spain, camping along the way.  And every time I love the place, Paris, Brussels, Barcelona or Greece – wherever and whenever I am here I am enthused by it, as if England is not really my home – but Europe is.

And here in Eymet is especially wonderful, with its run down houses and the beautiful square and all the streets of the old Bastide still intact, many like ours over four hundred years old.  The river and the church and the Café de Paris.  It is so good to be back, if only for a few days.

2066 – A Personal Memoir (more of the first bit)

Thursday 5th February

I am flying to France today, so have posted this in advance.  ‘Can’t wait to see beloved Eymet again.


Here is some more of 2066 to be going on with…..just keep in mind this was written in 2066, it’s easy to forget and think I might be talking about now…


“We, at least those few of us still awake enough to be aware, have absolutely no faith in the so-called Politico’s, who beckon to us sweetly out of the ether with their pretty smiling faces and soft beguiling words.  They are all very good at telling us what is wrong with our society, but none of them has a clue how to get us out of the rut we are rammed into.  They can’t even see over the ridges of the rut themselves.  None of them actually wants to change anything; they just think they can manage the tedium better.  They smile and wave at us from their glossy vid-ads, begging for our votes, (just tick here, one tick is all it takes to make a difference) but most of us know that no matter how many times you vote, in fact no matter who you vote for, the same deceitful faces get elected every time.  And are we even sure there aren’t faces behind the face, and faces behind those faces, row upon row like some bizarre computer-generated Russian doll.  And all of them smiling at us.


In any case the really important decisions are all taken somewhere else.  Power, real power lies elsewhere.   Parliament, MPs and debates are all there just for show; even Gov is a sham, a ragged fig-leaf to hide the bare-arsed emptiness of our gloriously impotent democracy.  The whole paraphernalia, ministers, committees and government itself is simply a tick-box on someone else’s audit form.  All the big decisions have already been taken, democracy merely rubber-stamps; giving our leaders that all (un) important seal of approval.  Maybe it’s always been that way – ‘as everything changes, so everything stays the same’.  Some French philosopher once said that, or something very like it.  I must remember to look it up on screen later.


As for religion – forget it.  Christianity is on its uppers and about time too, with fewer and fewer believers in that particular fairy story.  The Church of England itself went tits-up and tumbled into administration a couple of years back and hardly anyone noticed.  Judaism is as exclusive and self-focused as ever, not that that has ever bothered the Jews, who know by now that they really must be the chosen people as they own practically everything. 


The march of the Muslim’s carries on relentlessly, like some vast crawling desert destroying all before it in its deadly silent creep.  (Mind you, even the Islamists have bought into this cowardly new world, amazing to think that sixty years ago they were the threat we were all running scared of, but apparently this new world is all part of their own God’s plan.  Allahu Akbar indeed.) There is no doubting that they will inherit the burnt out crap-heap that is left of the world one day.   Hopefully it might be a couple of centuries until the overwhelming weight of their vast numbers suffocates all the nations of the world. They might have a tough time with India and China; though they are both far weaker now than in their economic heyday.  Thirty years ago they were still forces to be reckoned with but despite the floods, the earthquakes and other disasters they too still have vast numbers on their side.


But it doesn’t even matter what religion you outwardly pretend to follow everyone secretly knows that the priests, the mullahs and rabbis of this world know nothing at all.  They have no answers and besides, no-one is even asking the right questions.  Those of us who care know the truth for what it is.   It is the awful inevitability of the whole thing that is so over-awing.  It is the secret knowledge we carry, each one of us deep down in our hearts, that humans have well and truly fucked up this time, and no amount of computer generated solutions can possibly begin to save us. 


Computers are actually the biggest part of the problem anyway, some might say they are ‘the problem’; they stopped us thinking for ourselves long ago.  Now we know that we can never again live without them, not for a day or even an hour.  We would simply perish without our overwhelming reliance on them, though most of us I suspect, hate them to the core.  And just why is that?   They were once considered such a valuable tool, a machine designed to help us; now the tables have been turned and we are the machines running around living our lives to accommodate them, seemingly incapable of even passing a screen and not nodding it awake, and all so that they can tell us what to do.  (Didn’t it used to be the other way round once?)   And the friendlier the voices they synthesise, the more ‘human’ they try to sound the deeper that loathing goes.   With me at any rate.  As soon as I hear those dulcet tones ‘Good Morning Janek, don’t you think you’d better stop watching this now and get ready?  You don’t want to be late for work now, do you?’ the bile begins to rise from the pit of my stomach to my mouth and I think ‘Fuck it – yes, I fucking know that you twat.  Stop telling me things I know.’   But like the obedient little human I am I blink the news item shut and go shower and dress.   I don’t need a fucking machine to tell me the time, but apparently it thinks I do.


Hard now to imagine a time, what would it be – maybe only a century ago, when the world was absolutely computer-free.  I wonder what life was like then.  The history channels only show us these sepia tinted vista’s where soft voice-overs narrate cute little static photo’s and simple early 2D cine-vids.  They paint a carefree world of almost arcane simplicity; people actually driving cars themselves (like lunatics I must admit), and smoking and drinking themselves to an early cancer death.  Hardly anyone lived to be a hundred even.  But despite their stupidity, their recklessness, their lack of tech, those people actually seemed happy; the vid-editors can’t seem to erase that hope, that overwhelming optimism in their faces.  And it is the smiles; it’s those idiot grins, those inwardly happy smiles that get me every time.  It is as if they have discovered, or perhaps of course never lost, the secret of contentment.  Despite all they had to endure, constant wars, disease, hunger and poverty, they can’t stop smiling.”

D is for Dylan – Almost a recluse

Wednesday 4th February

For almost 4 years Dylan became almost a recluse.  What started as a minor motorcycle accident in late ’66 causing him to cancel a forthcoming tour became an escape hatch, or a growing doubt of his abilities or simply a rethinking of his entire career.  According to who you speak to that is; Dylan doesn’t enlighten us.  And there right in the middle of the madness of 1967, hippies and California and Woodstock, we still heard nothing.  He settled down to married life and having children, or did he?  After eighteen long months of nothing Dylan slipped out “John Wesley Harding”, but what was it, this new record.  His voice sounded distant, not really there – many of the songs had no chorus or focus, Dylan slipping in and out as if the song had nothing to do with him.  He sung of drifters and outlaws and hoboes, simple guitar, harmonica and background drums.  What was he trying to tell us; this was almost a biblical message, timeless songs.  It was almost saying “You must forget the old Dylan, he is not the saviour, he isn’t anything special at all.”  Trouble was that this silence only served to increase his fans fervour who now sought hidden insights into this completely counter-culture message.  The last song was a pointer to his next direction, “I’ll be your baby tonight” was a pure country ballad and he followed it with a whole country album “Nashville Skyline” with a smiling country Bob on the cover.  Of course everything Dylan touched was brilliant and the quality of the songs shone through. “Lay Lady Lay” became a hit and “I Threw it All Away” is one of his best love-songs ever.  He had also been quietly recording acoustic sings with The Band in the basement of their house in up-state New York.  These were eventually released in the mid seventies as “The Basement Tapes” – an album I have never really rated and one I am sure Bob never wanted released.

As if to completely throw his ever-growing army of fans he released “Self Portrait” in 1970; a double album of various strange songs, some quite beautiful, some quite rough sounding and many covers of other singers and a couple of bad live songs too – a real mixed bag, which actually I quite loved.  Some even worse out-takes were released by Columbia, his record company, a year later when Dylan threatened to leave them.  Whatever Dylan was up to it didn’t work.  The very few live appearances he made were huge events, everyone begging the old Bob, the Electric Bob, the Folkie Bob, the Poet Bob to return.  Eventually he sort of gave in and returned to some sort of conventional recording with New Morning.

Everything is Traded

Tuesday 3rd February

The idea of the market is very old.  Farmers would take their produce to market and a price agreed, depending on the shortage of supply or the desperation of need.  Of course, a balance had to be struck between sense and greed; better to sell your perishable foodstuffs at any price than have them rot on your hands.  Then around five hundred years ago banks emerged and money-lending, once the province of kings, became available to many.  Merchants would offer shares in their ventures (often slavery or trade with the colonies) and the banks would fund other (usually rich) men to buy those shares.  Then these shares started to be traded; insider knowledge as always a premium, and the stock markets began to emerge.  Then commodities began to be traded, guano, tobacco, rum and then oil and iron ore.  Then companies sprung up offering shares in railroads, un-built and purely speculative, or for new mines in South America.   In this way many fortunes were won and lost, and yet it still wasn’t enough.  Currencies began to be traded, banks moving vast sums around and gambling on the exchange rates slipping or rising.  Then futures began to emerge; rather than agree to simply buy oil or orange juice or pork bellies, you would buy an option to buy at a certain price at an agreed future date, and you could trade this option with other market hopefuls.

Now everything is traded, currencies, insurance policies, sovereign and personal debt, carbon credits – in fact anything which might have an unknown value at some point in the future is being traded.  It is a huge machine, billions moving electronically each second.  And all of it achieves nothing, except to enrich those involved in the trade.  It produces nothing (except more debt and huge profits).  It increases inexorably the cost of raw materials, especially food and yet at the same time drives down the money paid to farmers while making the cost to poor consumers higher.  It is a vast machine created by the wealthy for the sole purpose of making money, very little of which trickles down.  And it seems we are stuck inside the machine, every one of us, even though most of us are not playing the game we have become its victims.  And so gradually everything becomes a tradable commodity, nothing has any value except that which might be raised if it is traded.  Each year that passes the whole thing becomes more complex as we are all sucked into the machine where eventually we too will be packaged, evaluated and traded.


Rock Salt and Nails

Monday 2nd February

I have always been an album person, believing in the integrity of the album, that this was how the Artist wanted you to hear his or her songs.  And so I listen to albums the whole way through.  But occasionally and actually only rarer does one song demand my attention to the point that I have to hear it again and again.  John Martyn, a folk singer from the sixties who moved into blues and rock and played incredible guitar and who died a few years ago recorded many songs in his long career.  And I have heard most of them, even Rock Salt and Nails, before – but something about this version has captivated me.  Maybe, because it is sung live, it sounds different, maybe it is the despair in his voice or the resigned anger, the remembered hurt – but now I keep putting it on repeat.

I, who love words, had never really listened before to the words of betrayal – “Down in the hollow, where the water runs cold, It was there I first listened, To the lies that you told”  and then wow, the denouement, the ending; the last two lines of which he repeats and repeats, each time with more desperation “If you ladies were blackbirds, And you ladies were thrushes, I’d lay there for hours, In them cold chilly marshes.  But if ladies were squirrels, With them high bushy tails, I’d load up my shotgun, With rock salt and nails”   Such a vicious and yet poetic refrain and each line is accompanied by a stab of electric guitar and cuts deep to the bone.  Sheer brilliance and I cannot stop listening to it.


Another Month – Another Year

Sunday 1st February

When I was a child the future seemed endless.  At some point I realized that the Millenium would probably occur in my lifetime, though forty-nine seemed such a long way off that and I sort of figured I would be old and wrinkled by then and might not even notice it.  Notice it I did, and now it is way in the past.  Now we are well into 2015, a futuristic date if ever there was one.  I read 2001 a space odyssey in the late sixties and even then it seemed a bit too unrealistic a date for space travel to the stargate beyond Jupiter.  So what is it with time itself?  Why does it sometimes drag on and on, why do the seasons turn far too slowly and yet the years speed by?  Are other creatures aware of time, or is it for all intents and purposes a man-made concept?  Before we invented clocks and watches and now mobile phones to tell the time were past generations at all aware of time as we are?  Or is it more to do with our bodies, getting tired after the sun sets and waking as the dawn breaks.  And the morning mirror that greets us with a somewhat unrecognizable image of ourselves (surely we don’t look like that, surely not that old and haggard) that marks inexorably the passing of the years.

Each month that passes is another milestone – or furlong stone (remember them) on our life’s journey.  Trouble is we don’t quite know when the journey will end.  I suppose I mark my life by what I know of averages.  Today for men that is approaching eighty.  But my mum and dad are both still alive and quite healthy and striding into their mid-eighties, and I am in relatively good health – failing eyesight and hearing, but little else obviously wrong – so I assume I will reach at least eighty.  That is sixteen years from now.  Almost as long as since the millennium, and a quarter of the life I have lived so far.  Only twenty percent left you might say, and yet that thought does not depress me.  Surely it is the quality of those years and not the quantity that matters.  I probably wasted, or had little control of the first fifth.  The second I screwed up but had a lot of fun; the next two fifths I worked too hard and had too little enjoyment.  I seem to have turned a corner in the last six years or so and have reached a sort of plateau.  Work is less and less of a burden and will soon disappear, I worry about financial security in my old age but compared to many I have nothing to worry about.  I am writing again – though less than I would like and I am still listening to and buying and enjoying music.  Maybe I should stop counting the years or even the months and just count my blessings by the length of the song I am listening to.