Thursday 31st August

Jane had come back from school to find the house deserted, not unusual at all, so she had no idea what had happened.  Her mother had been frantically trying to come up with a story which Ted and she could fall back on, but it all seemed hopeless in the face of their being so obviously discovered, and even if Harriet said nothing, it would never be the same again.  She and Ted had driven around all afternoon in Ted’s old Triumph, and had decided that there was no alternative but to face the music.  No-one was quite sure how the music would get started, that was all.   Ted had dropped Jane’s mother off a couple of streets from their house and had driven frightened and almost in a daze back to his own house.  June was home by then, and she had started to prepare the dinner.  Jane was up in her room; she had heard her come in but hadn’t been down to say hello or anything.  She slowly became aware of voices coming from downstairs, hushed voices, almost not there but occasionally rising to more than a murmur, and then she came to the top of the stairs, and her heart leapt – it was Harriet.  Jane tumbled downstairs as quick as she could and burst into the kitchen, full of the excitement of seeing Harriet again, and such a surprise, they weren’t expecting her for a couple of weeks.

As Jane pushed the kitchen door open she knew straightaway there was something wrong.  Harriet was sitting at the table, hunched up and hiding behind her hair, as if it could somehow protect her from the approaching storm.   Their mother had her back to Jane, but it was tense and her hands, despite her trying to cut some vegetables up, were visibly shaking.  Jane’s immediate thought was that somehow Harriet’s drug problem had been discovered and she had been sent down in disgrace; why else would she just turn up in the middle of the week.

“Hello little sister, come in and join the party.” she said.  “Pity you weren’t here earlier.  Pity you missed the show, you might have been amused, but then again you might have been as horrified as I was.”

“What are you talking about? Why are you home today, Harriet? Are you some in some sort of trouble?”  Jane replied.

“Oh no, I’m not the one in trouble, am I mother?”  She muttered almost distractedly behind her curtain of hair.

“Oh stop it Harriet.  Stop it now, this is between your father and I, Jane can be left out of all this, for pity’s sake.” Their mother snapped back at her.

“I don’t understand, what are you all talking about?”  It was like some play she had wandered into and missed the first few lines.

“Mother dear, aren’t you going to enlighten our dear Jane, or do I have to do everything around here?”  Harriet was still holding a heft of hair across her face, as if to hide her emotions as well.

“Stop it now Harriet.  Please.”  The knife clattered to the ground and she was crying now, the first time I had ever seen my mother crying and I had no idea why.  No-one picked the knife up, Jane can still remember seeing it glinting in the sunlight from the window and wondering if she should run over and pick it up.  It was so tense, she could feel the air like a solid brick between them all, and all the time Jane was thinking should she just run over and pick the knife up.  She was just about to push herself forward and retrieve it; she simply couldn’t leave it there.  Her mother had her face in her pinny, and Jane could hear her muffled sobs.  Suddenly Harriet broke the tension.

“Come on Jane, let’s get out of this shithouse; let’s go out.” And she looked up at me for the first time, but strangely it failed to reassure me at all.  “Do you fancy the Mikado?  Too early for drinking yet, hey, little sister?”  And she attempted a half-hearted smile from behind her long bangs of hair.

“Alright,” Jane said apprehensively, if there was one thing she knew about Harriet, she had to be the star of the show, and she would tell her in her own way.

*  * *

June had insisted that Ted and she should both tell their partner’s, and that, if at all possible, Ted should bring her sister to their house later that evening, and they would try to sort out where they went from there.  But in all honesty whatever decision they came to would make little difference to her.  In a way Ted was right; she did want everything to come crashing down.  It was all over as far as she was concerned the moment Harriet pushed open that bedroom door.  They were simply going through the motions now, and painful as it might be she only had herself to blame.

She hated herself and the mess she was in; she hated the fact that she had carried on seeing Ted, when she had had chance after chance to end it, and no-one would have been any the wiser.  She hated the fact that she had dragged Phil into all of this, he didn’t deserve it.  How would he survive if it got out, how could he ever hold his head up in the town again?

And she hated Harriet mostly, what on earth was the girl doing back home when she should have been studying in Leeds.  There was something insidious about her, something June couldn’t control; from such an early age she had been quietly deceiving her, acting as if she were her equal.  June may have been a useless mother in some ways but she was still her child, and she should have shown her more respect.  Whatever else June may have been guilty of, she didn’t deserve her open contempt.

In a way too, if Phil wanted a divorce, if it meant the end of her marriage, then so be it – that would be okay.  She knew that Ted and she were over as well, he had no intention of leaving Julie for her sister, and who could blame him.  In a way if it all ended today she would be happy heading out of there with just a suitcase and never looking back.  It really didn’t matter now; the rest of her life was just a chore to be got through.  Let others decide, she wouldn’t fight, she wouldn’t scream, ‘Just tell me what you have decided and I’ll go along with it.’

*  * *

And so the girls went to the Mikado, and Harriet was even more distracted than usual, she wouldn’t even look Jane in the face.  She kept looking sideways, as if someone were watching her and then laughing, and then choking back her tears. Jane knew that this was something really big, but just how big she really had no idea.  She kept asking her what their mother had meant by it being between their father and her, to which she just shrugged her shoulders or came out with some obscure comment like it was actually between the four of them, or that it affected us all, not just those two.  And all the while Jane didn’t actually know what it all was about.  She had guessed it was something to do with sex, but how had Harriet got herself involved, and her immediate thoughts were along the lines that it was their father who was the guilty one, that somehow he had been having an affair, maybe with one of the office girls. But that didn’t make any sense with what Harriet had been taunting their mother with.  Slowly it dawned on Jane, (always the slow one) that it was her mother, not her father, who was in trouble.  Her father of course was in a whole heap of trouble, but quite a different sort of trouble, as they would shortly find out.

She had had enough of Harriet’s maybe involuntary little game, and she shook her shoulders and half shouted at her.

“It’s our mother, isn’t it? Tell me now Harriet, just what has been going on.”

She looked straight at Jane, wide-eyed and staring and said.  “Oh Jane, our mother has been screwing Uncle Ted.  That’s what this is all about.”

“Uncle Ted?  But she can’t have been.  That’s not true.  He is married to Aunt Julie, not to our mother.  I don’t believe you Harriet.  I don’t believe you.”

Brexit – Tick Tock

Wednesday 30th August

I know that it is the silly season for news, with Parliament on an extended Summer Break, and even the Trumpster relatively quiet after his recent diatribes.  Hurricane Harvey is ploughing a furrow through Texas and Louisiana, and yet the climate change deniers will not blink an eye as we see images of people being rescued from rooftops and cars upturned.  Mind you there has been scant reporting of the even worse devastation in India and Bangla-Desh – such is our Western view.

But there has been a little movement on Europe or the Great Brex-shit Nonsense.  The Government has published a handful of ‘papers’, supposedly outlining their negotiating position in more detail.  I haven’t read them, but most commentators agree that there is still too little flesh on the bones and they are more like wish-lists than serious statements.  We still have no idea what sort of eventual trading relationship we will get in just 19 months time, although it has now been conceded that some sort of ‘transitional’ arrangement will have to be in place – but again we are no clearer on exactly what either this or the eventual deal will look like.  Meanwhile Labour has at last come down off the fence.  It sort-of worked during the election to say that Labour agreed with the Referendum result and that that would mean an end to the Single Market and free movement, but without committiing to any particular future deal.  Except just like the Government Labour wanted the ‘best possible deal for jobs and trade’.  Well, now they have stated that they are committed to a continuation of the Single Markey for a period maybe lasting up to four years.

So, slowly things are beginning to coalesce into a slightly softer Brexit. At least we have heard no more talk of ‘No Deal is better than a bad deal’.  It looks as if we will have a ‘transitional period of between 2 and 4 years, during which I suspect that a proper trade deal will be negotiated.  But unless we buckle and agree to being in the Single Market but not actually the EU, which I still doubt – there is no way we will get such an advantageous deal as we now have.  And I suspect we will still be part of the customs union for several years to come – it is just too messy if not.

Meanwhile, Michel Barnier, the chief EU negotiator is complaining that the Government has still not made sufficient progress on the rights of citizens (which I would have thought was the easiest thing to achieve) or the border with Northern Ireland and Gibraltar, and of course the ‘Divorce Bill’ – or more correctly our agreed budget contributions up to 2020, and in a few cases beyond that.

Of course – anything might still happen.  And when parliament re-convenes the hastily renamed bill to convert EU legislation into our law will begin.  Expect a few rows and votes going this way or that.  But none of us should forget – the clock is ticking….tick tock.

Memories of Stowmarket – The Rec

Tuesday 29th August

The Rec was our playground, it was only a couple of streets from our council house in Silverdale Avenue – down Lydgate and Curwen and there it was.  It was short for the recreation ground, but everyone called it the rec. A huge grassed are with rows of trees along a couple of edges.  There was a slide, with a large platform at the top which served as a tower to be attacked by hordes of marauding ‘injuns’.  A whirligig which we used to spin faster and faster until those still clinging on would be spun off or our arms got too tired to keep on spinning.  There were a couple of swings which we would swing higher and higher and then launch ourselves into space at the highest point we could achieve.  There was the main shelter with benches all around where we played football when the weather was bad, and a smaller four-sided one which was incorporated into our games too.  But mostly there was a huge expanse of grass where we rode our bikes or played football every Saturday.  Whoever turned up was delegated to, usually, the losing side.  We literally had jumpers or coats for goalposts.  It was a mad melee, nobody played in any particular position, we all just chased the ball and kicked either it or our opponents.

There were also a set of ornate Memorial Gates listing those who had fallen in the two wars, though as a small child I never really understood that fallen meant died, I seem to recall thinking they must have fallen over and then stopped being soldiers.  When I was about three I remember quite clearly a motorcycle accident where the bike skidded and the rider and passenger came off just by these gates.  I can recall the headlight splaying across the brightly coloured gates (but my Mum and Dad can’t remember this at all).  I can also remember marching to these gates in the Scouts every November, and also when Churchill died in 1961 I think.

And later when courting we would often take girls to the rec for a kiss and cuddle leaning against one of the large trees, or in winter huddled in the memorial shelter.  The incident with Jane in Sips, Slips and Snippets of Love really did happen at the rec too.

So many fond memories of the rec, my childhood playground.

W – is for Jennifer Warnes

Monday 28th August


I first discovered Jennifer singing with Leonard Cohen on his late Seventies album ‘Recent Songs’ and through the Eighties too.  Her voice seemed to perfectly compliment the mournfulness of Leonard.  He had always needed female foils, even on his early records he had a female chorus to soften the sadness in his voice.  But Jennifer Warnes was different again.  Her voice was no saccharine sweet girlie voice but that of a mature woman, the way they duetted together you would almost swear they were a couple – but I am not sure she ever succumbed to his charms.

Her own career has been a real slow-burner with albums few and far between and only a handful of self-penned songs. She had a couple of hit singles in America – but nobody in England had hear of her.  But having heard her, especially on ‘Various Positions’ where she sung on almost every track I sought out her own records.  The best of which by far was “Shot Through The Heart”, every song seems just perfect especially the title track “Shot through the heart – there goes the gunman, Shot through the heart – why’d you do that to me – were you just trying to get free.”

But her masterpiece was her 1987 collection of Leonard Cohen songs “Famous Blue Raincoat”.  She had indeed sung on some of these songs on Leonard’s album “I’m Your Man”.  But this record had some great arrangements and the songs were sung a touch faster and with more verve.  This record brought the songs of Leonard to a much wider audience, just as years later the recordings of “Hallelujah” would do.

Jennifer also had a massive hit single duetting with Joe Cocker on the song “Up Where We Belong”, the theme from An Officer and a Gentleman – though how much that was due to the quality of the song or the popularity of the film is debatable.  That song incidentally was written by another favourite of mine Buffy Sainte-Marie, who co-incidentally recorded brilliant versions of a couple of Leonard’s songs and even a long poem he wrote “God is Alive, Magic is afoot” but never sung himself.

Jennifer has released a couple of later records which didn’t really work for me.  Somehow that magic she had seemed to have dissolved as the years passed.

I still look out for CD versions of some of her records, but they are quite rare and expensive – and she isn’t really one of my very favourites.  If it hadn’t been for her association with Leonard I would never have listened to her.

Image result for images of Jennifer Warnes



Sunday 27th August

I can’t seem to stop writing. I sometimes ask myself why.  Is anyone really interested in my ramblings?  Sometimes I wonder if I am even interested in my ramblings.  So, what is it about writing?  It is a bit different from speaking, though I am not bad at that either.  When you are writing the sentences form in your brain, not as complete and perfect sentences, but as half-formed beginnings, and as your fingers type out the letters one part of your mind is hanging on to those words, thinking about the spelling, the possible punctuation required, and another part of your brain is coming up with the next few words.  Of course, it is all pretty seamless and you aren’t really conscious of this split thinking process.  I often describe writing as ‘the story writes itself’, which isn’t true – because it is all me.  But when I am in the zone it feels as if someone, or some thing else is actually writing the story.  I am merely the conduit, the means of getting the words down on paper or screen.  My first real book (though I do have reams of writing in dusty folders and boxes in my garage at Walton – so I must have been at this for years) ‘Catherine’s Story’ was written by Catherine.  Catherine was of course a construct.  She was based on a real woman who I went out with and who actually moved in with me for a few brief weeks back in 1972.  But she was the coat-hanger I draped the story around.  There are real incidents in the story but most of it is made up.  And who made it up, but Catherine.  When I was writing it, and during the several re-writes, it was Catherine herself who invaded my brain and dictated the words – I was merely the conduit, the means for her to tell her story, hence the title.

But why do I write?  I think really it is a case of incredible self-importance.  I simply have to record my thoughts – otherwise they are wasted and lost to mankind forever.

Maybe it is simply so that I don’t forget them either, conscious as I am of slight memory loss as I age.  All of us think, and unless we convey these ideas to others or commit to paper they are lost forever.  And this blog is invaluable.  Not only does it supply me with a huge (hahaha) readership but it is a driver, constantly whipping me into action.  Because along with the desire to write is the laziness inherent in us all and any old excuse will suffice, not to do something – like writing.  And so from the moment I am awake (and who knows maybe while I am asleep too) I am thinking about writing, and when I have written my little piece, my tiny spit in the wind, I can sort-of relax.  Till tomorrow.

Driverless Cars

Saturday 26th August

I wrote recently about the future being here already, and it seems that we are hurtling headlong into an automated ‘artificial intelligence’ world.  It was also one of the themes in my book “2066 – a personal memoir” where a future exists where almost everything is decided by computers, far more efficient but lacking in those very human qualities; compassion, love, caring – and also the bad ones but which are also essential of guile and deception.

Anyway, I have just seen on the BBC that trials will begin next year of driverless lorries. And my thoughts are mixed.  In many ways this may be far safer than the present system of controlled chaos, with drivers, maybe tired, maybe not fit, maybe listening to music or on their phone – and yet having a very dangerous amount of metal travelling at high speed in their sometimes less than completely capable hands.  But…and here is the big problem.  We all know how reliable computers can be, and yet how often they simply don’t work properly too.  How many times has your computer simply restarted in the middle of you working for no good reason.  And as for the internet, we all know how flakey that can be too.  There is also the issue of there being both driverless and human driver vehicles on the same bit of road.  If there is a collision who will be to blame?  And if it is found to be a fault with the driverless vehicle whose fault will that be; the manufacturer or the programmer or the gps satellite provider or the owner of the vehicle….

Supporters of the idea say that a human must be sitting at the wheel in case of a fault in the system.  But here we can foresee problems too.  Inevitably even a human sitting there will relax as the computer drives the car, maybe even nodding off.  And how will they know the computer has malfunctioned; it will probably be too late to manually take over.  Another idea is for driverless lorries to be in a convoy (effectively a train, whatever happened to them), with only the front lorry having a human in it; the others programmed to remain at the same speed and a certain distance from the vehicle in front.  But as far as I can see these would have to be on separate roads or the problems above would still arise.

The most worrying feature though is the reasoning behind this.  If it were purely safety that would be one thing, but I am sure that saving money is the real motive.  Obviously being in the slipstream of another vehicle would cut down on fuel, and pollution, so a good thing.  But the motive may be eventually to eliminate drivers altogether.  Just another worrying trend.  Some forecasters are estimating that up to a half of all jobs could be lost in the next few decades.  Many of them are pretty boring and menial, but at least they are jobs – and we cannot all be computer technicians or working in creative and interesting professions.  We may be heading into a future where the divisions between haves and have-nots are even more clearly defined; those clever enough to be in interesting jobs and those unfortunate enough to be replaceable by computers.


Friday 25th August

Is it just me, or does the World seem to be spinning faster.  The days go by in a whirr – weeks?  What were weeks?  And months – we are in August, and before we know it, it will be September.  And then the mad rush of Christmas and a New Year.

So, just what happens to the time.  All that time that used to drag on my hands as a child.  Watching the school clock behind the teacher’s head, seeing if I could catch the minute hand jump every sixty seconds.  Now, time just whizzes past.  I glance at my watch and cannot believe another hour has passed so quickly.

Is this just a symptom of growing old?  Does the time go faster the less of it you have left?  Or is just that there is so much happening in our lives that time itself seems to go faster.  Never have we lived in such a time of information.  A constant bombardment actually of information.  24 hour news, social media, e-mails to check…all of it makes the time go faster.  How rare it is for me to just sit and read a book for an afternoon.

Of course this is mostly my own fault.  The Café takes up at least half of every day, we could just walk away….but it has become such an important part of our life.  We meet our friends there, and besides where else could we get such a good cup of coffee in the morning.  Also, I don’t really need to write this blog every day.  But in a funny way I feel I have to.  One of my big faults (or virtues) is my stickability; once I have decided to do something, I just keep going like some demented dog tugging on a lead, never quite sure of my destination but eager to just keep on keeping on.

But all of this may mean nothing.  Everyone we talk to, even those who lead a remarkably idle life compared to us, also complain that time is literally flying past.

So, if time really does appear to be going faster the only solution is to cram even more stuff into your day.  Don’t waste a second.  Keep a book or a kindle handy for when you have to wait in a queue.  Never refuse any invitations, attend everything, keep yourself even busier than the busiest of buzzy bees.  It won’t make any difference but you may not even have the luxury then of even remarking how quickly the days are flowing past.

Home Thoughts From Abroad

Thursday 24th August

This was a poem by Robert Browning.  Also the title of a song by Clifford T. Ward where he references the poet too.  We probably studied this poem at school – but until we brushed on the War Poets in the Sixth Form, I must admit that Poetry, especially that of Wordsworth and Shelley passed me by….

I have just been home.  Or what I once thought of as home, England.  My thoughts are obviously coloured by living here in France.  And coloured is the word which springs to mind.  It seems to me that the five days I spent in England were almost in black and white, or rather some dirty smudgy over-wash – the colours all muted and bland.  And suddenly when you step off the plane at Bergerac you emerge into full splendid vibrant colour.

And my, how the temperature is different.  We have got used to it, living here in France.  There are days when it just feels too hot, but the houses are built differently, they are cooler in summer, they have shutters to keep out the worst of the sun.  But mostly I simply like it, warm every day.  It was pretty cool and miserable weather in England.  It managed to rain a bit every day, and the skies were overcast and greyish.  Then as the plane doors open in France it is like stepping into a hairdryer, hot hot hot air – and of course you are overdressed.  You had to be, because in England you never know what to expect.  I have been in shorts and t-shirt and sandals for months now but always wear long jeans, shoes and socks in England, especially on the tube. There it is all push and shove, no happy faces at all, as the thousands manage their daily commute, heads buried in phones or i-pads, making sure they make no eye contact with anyone else (to speak to a stranger would be almost committing a crime), all absorbed in their own little screen worlds.

And the biggest difference seems to be the people.  I know I am prejudiced but almost everyone you see in England seems unhappy, dour, not exactly miserable but not relaxed and happy either.  Last night we had the busiest (so far) Night Market, here in Eymet.  And you simply cannot imagine this happening in England.  Communal eating – long tables and stools all around the square and into the side streets, and people all talking to each other, to their neighbours, to the people they happen to be sitting next to.  Food everywhere, and very reasonably priced; moules et frites, calamari, paella, barbecued duck, saussices canard, pizzas, crepes, waffles and chichis, melon baskets and even a vegetarian stall – all doing roaring business.  And several stalls selling wine at 5 euros a bottle.  We were very busy selling mostly cold drinks with a few wines and beers thrown in.  Our four table were constantly full.  There are also stalls selling jewellery, clothes, pottery, second-hand vinyl, hats, soap and all sorts of touristy things.  It goes on until quite late, even at midnight there are a few stalls still selling stuff.  And the bars and restaurants are heaving too.

But the main thing is that everyone had a great time.  They maybe spent 15 euros a person and less for the children.  There were no fights, no drunks, no bad behaviour, just everyone having a good time.

So, home thoughts from abroad I am afraid  are not too enthusiastic about an England that politically too I really am afraid seems to be settling into a rather unhappy place.


Wednesday 23rd August


“My God Ted, did you see her face.  I’ve never seen anyone look so shocked.”

“Me neither.  What the hell do we do now June?  A right bloody mess and no mistake, I can tell you.”  As he hurriedly pulled his trousers up and buckled his belt.

“It’s over Ted.  It’s all over.  Don’t you see Ted, this is it; this is how it ends. There is no way back from this.”  June had known that as soon as she saw it was Harriet at the door.  ‘”There’s no way she will just keep her mouth shut I can assure you.  If I know anything about my darling daughter Harriet she won’t be able to keep this a secret.  I’m afraid we are for the high jump Ted – you and me.  We’re going to have to just face up to them. Phil and my sister I mean; there’s no going back from this now.”

And somehow, deep down, she was glad, glad that it was over, all the hiding, the secrecy and the guilt.  No matter what might happen now she wouldn’t have to lie anymore.  Maybe she had been wanting this, or some sort of resolution, for some time now.  She had been too much of a coward to decide anything for herself; better that fate had taken a hand.  So, along with the uncertainty and the dread of telling Phil and Julie, was a strange calm.  At the very centre of her being, even in this maelstrom, this impending nightmare, she was remarkably calm.

*  * *

What did Harriet do next?  Well, she simply acted as if nothing had happened, she continued her aimless tour of their small town until the shops started closing and she realised she would have to come home or go back to University.  She used to travel back and forth by train, and it wasn’t a straightforward journey; she had to go in the opposite direction back to London, the Circle line from Liverpool Street to Kings Cross, and then a long and tedious journey up to Leeds, the whole thing used to take her hours.  There was another way by taking a bus to Ipswich, then another to Cambridge, and yet another up to Leeds, but this took even longer and was so complicated with timetables not matching that it really had to be arranged in advance.  So she decided to go back to the house.

*  * *

Without thinking about it they just knew they had to get out of the house.  Ted had parked his car a couple of streets away; he couldn’t just put it in the drive when he popped round for a session, could he?   June was busy looking all around her, almost certain that Harriet was spying on her or that she had gone to see Phil already, and he and Harriet would be walking down the street to confront them.  They got into Ted’s battered old Triumph, June moved a packet of Old Holborn and a muddy copy of ‘The Sketch’ off the passenger seat and they drove out of the wretched town.  June was desperately looking around her, trying to spot Harriet – but she was nowhere to be seen.  She knew it was pointless, but she felt if she could just sit down and talk to her before she spoke to everyone else it might still be alright, but they never saw her and soon they were out and headed for Ipswich.  June didn’t know why, but they both felt they just had to get as far away as possible.  Ted kept muttering, “Fine mess this is, what the hell will Julie say when she finds out?”  But he wasn’t really talking to June at all.  In a way he hadn’t been talking to her for ages anyway, that had always been their trouble; they had never faced the possibility of ever being discovered.  They had simply never talked about any of it.

Ted was understandably most concerned with keeping his marriage together, though what her sister would think June couldn’t imagine.  She would never forgive her, she knew that for a fact anyway.  It might be possible for her to take Ted back and to eventually forgive him, but it was all over between the sisters now, that much was for certain.  Suddenly June started to worry about Phil.  She knew that this could destroy him, in his way he had always been a bit fragile, that mask he wore of confident solicitor was only a mask, and even though June didn’t really know what went on behind it, she knew it for the mask it was.

They were pulling up at a small café in Ipswich, when June decided that she would offer to move out of the home.  Maybe Phil and the girls could make some sort of a life for themselves without her – heaven knows she had felt isolated there in her own home with them all for so long.  Phil and she hardly spoke some days, he was always so wrapped up in his work, Harriet when she was home was unbearable, and even Jane would sit up in her room for hours on end rather than come down and talk to June.

They sat over cup of tea after wretched cup of tea, and still they couldn’t come up with any answers.  She insisted that they should talk to Phil and her sister that night, though Ted wanted to wait and see what Harriet would do.

“Can’t you talk to the girl, tell her to be sensible.  Make her see what trouble she would be causing everyone if she said anything.”  He pleaded.

“Oh Ted, it’s far too late for that.  Besides you don’t know Harriet.  She may be shocked now, but some little ferret in her brain will be seeing how she can turn this to her advantage.  She’ll want her revenge, no matter what else may happen.”

“You talk as though you hated the girl.  You almost sound as if you want everything to come crashing down.”  He looked up at her with a mixture of shock and surprise.  And June simply half-smiled back at him.

“Too late for that, Ted.  It already has.”

BlackStar by Bowie

Tuesday 22nd August

Along with most people I was moved by the nature of Bowie’s death.  We all knew he had been unwell, just how unwell was a well-guarded secret.  A year earlier he had released ‘The Next Day’ after a break in recording and touring of several years.  To be honest I wasn’t that impressed by that record.  One or two brilliant tracks, but just a bit too noisy for me.  I got the sense he was trying too hard to be Bowie, the Bowie of old that is.

But last year, just before the announcement of his death came ‘Blackstar’.  And it was and remains the most poignant and apposite of Artistic Statements.  It is literally littered with clues as to his impending death.  Just think about it.  He knew he only had months, or possibly weeks to live, but he was determined to leave us a rare gift, a farewell note.

I deliberately waited over a year before listening to the record.  I had been emotionally moved by the videos of Blackstar and Lazarus, with Bowie looking awful and wrapped in those button eyes.  This was ‘rock n’ roll’ of a different order completely.  Anyway with the distance passed I started listening to Bowie’s latest record.  So, what do I think?  Actually, it is one of his best records.  Forget the circumstances and judge it on its own merits was my idea.  Of course it is almost impossible to forget that this was his last album and recorded in the weeks before he died.  But it really is a very good record.  The opening tack ‘Blackstar’ is really two songs joined together but works really well.  And ‘Lazarus’ is simply brilliant too, with or without the moving video.  But the album is more than just these two semi-familiar songs.  The feel of the album is different too.  Recorded with a New York Jazz band the ‘music’ never overwhelms the voice. And amazingly his voice is still great, and not raddled or gruff like so many of his contemporays, but clear and bright still.  The songs are all pretty good too, especially ‘Dollar Days’ and the final track ‘I can’t give everything away’.   For me, it is more reminiscent of ‘hours’ than any of his other records, a bit quieter, a bit more reflective, a bit more melodic – and all the better for that.

Who knows if his death had been delayed by a decade how this record would have been received.  Maybe he needed the impetus to pull another great album out of the bag.  But it certainly is a very good record.  And brilliantly packaged, even if most of the lyrics are glossy black on matt black and almost impossible to read.

Blackstar by David Bowie (2016-07-28)