I Have Lived many Lives – 4

Thursday 30th November

With the selfishness and impulsiveness of youth I ran away from home.  Barely eighteen at the time I had no idea how hard it would be, or how much pain it would cause my parents.  The reasons are complex, and maybe mostly used as self-justification.  Maybe the answer is that I simply wanted to get away, to run away, to re-invent myself – as I have done so many times.

I hitched a ride just outside Stowmarket towards Ipswich,  The van driver dropped me at a truckers café where many lorries bound for London would stop.  I got another lift to London itself.  Both drivers knew that I was a runaway, they didn’t seem to care..  Strange that my life has been highlighted and inspired by songs.  I was incredibly affected by the Beatles singing “She’s leaving Home” – I am not saying it made me leave, but maybe it planted the seed.  Del Shannon singing “Runaway” may have had something to do with it.  Who knows?  My mother’s mother – Vera – lived in London, and we had visited a few times.  There was an allure about London; Carnaby Street, Swinging London, Abbey Road and all.  I had no hesitation – London was the place I would head for.  And of course, this would change my life completely.  I had five pounds and a tiny suitcase with a handful of clothes and a copy of ‘Under Milk Wood’, and maybe the optimism of Micawber that something would turn up.

I won’t describe what I did to survive the first few days, that will be for a later piece of writing – needless to say, I did survive and with no scars either.  Pretty soon I got a job as a ‘busboy’ in the Great Eastern Hotel and a tiny room in Stoke Newington. I can barely remember those days now, but there was a sense of freedom and I had kept in touch with a couple of friends, so my parents knew I was okay.  They came to visit me in my tiny bedsit, I could see the disappointment in their eyes as I had to move the only chair and they all had to sit on the single bed.  But crap as it was, it was mine and wild horses would not have dragged me back.  I had made the move and I would survive, there was no going back. I had somewhere to live, I was earning money and I was free. I had done it.  I had re-invented myself.  Nobody knew me as the school clown anymore, in fact I could be anyone I wanted to be.

Then I met Carol…

The Perfect Lyric

Wednesday 29th November

I have always been fascinated with words, and even more so with lyrics.  Sometimes words just seem so right.  In Hey Jude when Paul sings “The Movement you need is on your shoulder” it is absolutely right, as John pointed out when Paul wanted to change it.  But, as an amateur poet I love rhymes too.  Dory Previn (long since passed away) has always been one of my favourite artists.  She came to fame after divorcing Andre Previn when he left her for Mia Farrow.  Dory wrote a particular sharp lyric about this – “Beware of young girls, who come to the door – wistful and pale, twenty and four, delivering daisies with delicate hands.”

And many other brilliant songs too.  Her words were often shocking and to the point, and incredibly honest – which somewhat belies the fact that she used to be a songwriting lyricist, in the days long before songwriters were actually allowed to sing their own words.  Back in the early Sixties, when she was known as Dory Langdon she had already penned several songs for Hollywood films, invariably sung by others.  But she released her own album, which instantly flopped.  I don’t know why.  She has a lovely voice, especially when she sings quiet slow songs.  I recently discovered that although I thought I had all of Dory’s records this early effort had eluded me.  It has recently been reissued on CD and I bought it. It is really rather good, she sounds a bit like a jazzy Doris Day.

The title track is a bright and breezy half comedy number “Why can’t we be enemies?” and it has the perfect lyric.

“I told you before, we’re not a pair

I’m just a spare leather glove

It’s such a bore, but you’re never there

You’re just a fair-weather love”

This is simply genius.  Who would ever think of such an apposite and clever lyric.  In many ways the art of songwriting has gone downhill.  We have so fallen in love with the singer-songwriter pouring out their anguish, or on the other hand trite words to disco or dance tracks like “Get down on it” that we have almost forgotten just how great the lyricists of old were.  There was a time when songwriting was an industry; the Brill Building in New York gave us Neil Diamond and Carole King, who were both writing for other voices long before they found their own.

So, when I find the perfect lyric my heart leaps and I just want to share it.

What Is Life?

Tuesday 28th November

George Harrison sung this in 1971 – questioning maybe, the absurdities of life, and the meaningless of it all without a Spiritual dimension, which he thought he had discovered with the teachings of the Maharishi.

But for me the broader question is indeed “What is Life?”   I cannot, although not without a youth of preparedness, quite accept that the worship of an almighty creator is enough to answer all (or indeed any of) the questions.  I am indeed incredibly sceptical of the whole idea of an intelligent creator; not that the simple expedient of Natural Selection makes that much sense either – it might describe how, but not why.  Although of course the question which Astro-physicists have so far failed to answer is where did all the stuff in the Universe come from.  All those stars, the gas giants, the burning suns, the planets and the moons – indeed, all that gas, all those rocks, all those elements] the complex molecules, the enormous number of atoms, the electrons and the sub-atomic particles, which are even more elusive.  Where did all this stuff come from?  And why on earth (literally) should they have combined to form chemical compounds capable of developing into life?

And what if life itself?  All this struggle, all these different species eating each other, trying desperately to pass on their dna to the next generation – what exactly is it for?

Or, is it possible that the Universe itself has an organic dimension; that wherever possible atoms will combine to form molecules which may in some way be independent, become life itself?  Maybe it is a force just as powerful in the Universe as magnetism and electricity.  And for what purpose?  But maybe that is the whole problem with all of our questions which we throw into the sky.  As (some would have us believe) rational creatures we assume that there must be a purpose to everything.  Maybe there is absolutely no purpose to the Universe at all, maybe it is all completely accidental.  Maybe life itself is a freak of nature, an accident happening on a single planet, never to be repeated in the billions of years gone and still to come.  Somehow, I don’t think so….though whether we will ever get much closer to answering the question before we too go down the dinosaur way is debateable.




The Irish Question

Monday 27th November

In the Nineteenth Century one of the intractable problems was the Irish Question. Unlike the rest of the Empire there was some representation for Ireland in the British Parliament, even if many of the seats were either ‘rotten’ (controlled by a landowner), or usurped by upper class English gentlemen who had barely sat foot in their constituencies (much like today).  The big question was, should Ireland be granted ‘Home Rule’.  Every so often the Irish would rebel, and then in 1915 they were successful, and the state of Eire was born.  But the big problem with Ireland has always been the religious divide.  For centuries there have been troubles between the majority in the South who are Catholic and the majority in the North who are Protestant. The British who, in the middle of World War 1, gave in and allowed the South to be independent, hung onto the Northern counties known as Ulster.  Legally this is part of the United Kingdom, and although they voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU (as did Scotland) they will be dragged out of it by the Tories of England.

So….the island of Ireland will be mostly in the EU, with free movement of people and goods, but the Northern enclave will be out of the EU, with no free movement of people and goods – and most likely tariffs on goods traded across the border.

But….an important part of the Northern Ireland Agreement was that there should be no border between the two states in Ireland.

The EU is insisting that no border will be re-instated.  The British Government has agreed in theory.  But nobody has any idea how this will work in practice.  Without a border there will be nothing to stop smuggling of both goods and people – and it will probably be one-way traffic.  Having no border – will make a mockery of the Brexiteers claims of controlling our borders.  With one – the peace treaty, already in serious trouble, will probably collapse.  The only real solution will be for there to be no border on the island of Ireland, but passport and custom controls between the island of Britain and the island of Ireland

In effect this will mean the Unification of Ireland, with almost certainly different rules in the North and a degree of self-government.  How this will go down with the Protestant majority is hard to guess.  Will they slowly begin to accept the control of Dublin rather than London?  Or will civil war break out again?  It may be that in a strange way Cameron has done more to help the political ambitions of Sinn Fein by calling the referendum than he imagined.  To say nothing of what will happen in Scotland.  Brexit may actually usher in the beginnings of the end of the United Kingdom itself.

Up the Stairs

Sunday 26th November

We live in a sous-sol house.  Slightly reminiscent of Medieval houses where the animals would be downstairs and the family a floor above, our house has a huge garage (now a living room) a cave (wine cellar, now a storeroom) a power room, with the oil tank, boiler and water heater, and two (now en-suite) guest bedrooms.  This whole floor is really reserved for Summer parties and for our guests to use as their very own apartment.

I had recently returned from England, and as usual was snuffling a bit.  Whether this is breathing in recycled air on the plane or a bug picked up you never know, but I often have a mild cold for a couple of days.  My wife had also returned a few days alter and she had the ‘snuffles’ too, which threatened to be a full-blown cold,  but like an unwelcome guest, seemed to hesitate on the doorstep – not sure if it should come in or not.

I had a bit of painting to do downstairs, and after tidying up and cleaning my brushes I changed out of my painting togs and came up the stairs.  You know that tingle you get in your nose when a sneeze is about to erupt.  You try to hold it in, but you know it will explode any second soon.  As I reached the top step the sneeze almost knocked me back down the stairs.  It was a mighty one.  Oh, I wonder where that come from? I walked to the kitchen to make a cup of tea and another sneeze hit me, then my nose started streaming like Niagara Falls, and by the time I reached out for the kitchen roll I was in full ‘Cold’ mode; streaming eyes, the beginning of a sore throat and a dripping nose.  Bloody Hell – the first cold of the Winter.

But I have never experienced such an onset before.  Literally, by the time it took to walk up the stairs I had gone from being perfectly healthy to feeling dreadful.  All I can hope is that the cold disappears as speedily as it arrived…


Change ?

Saturday 25th November

Change.  We all want change.  Our lives are so dreary we would love a change.  Maybe even our partners are boring, wouldn’t a change be nice.  Our Politicians serve us up the same shit, just on a different plate – oh, how we yearn for change.  Or the promise of change.

Because when the reality comes we don’t really like it.  In fact, we all resist change, despite most things being out of our control – deep down we wish they would just stay the same.  Or, maybe change a bit slower.  It is the pace of change which bewilders us – if only we had a bit more time to get used to it.  When I was younger, not even a child but in my early twenties, computers were the size of a room and needed men (seldom did you see a woman) in white coats to load new reels of wide magnetic tape – and now your mobile phone is incredible, it can take pictures, connect you to the internet, and wirelessly link to your fitbit (which is rapidly replacing your watch), pay for a coffee, run your bank account – and so much more….when all I really want it to do is make a phone call occasionally.  TV used to be black and white and one channel, then two and now hundreds and TV on demand, not even scheduled programmes – when many of us simply want someone else to decide what we should watch.  All this choice is terrible – Pink Floyd sung 15 channels of shit on the Tv – Fifteen!!!!  If only there were just fifteen.

Many of us do the lottery in the impossible hope of winning a fortune.  Oh, how our lives would change – all that money.  We could stop working, buy a big house or ten, a car, a yacht, live in Hotels, majestically nomading our way around the world in luxury.  Be careful what you wish for.  Most lottery winners have lost family and friends as jealousy swarms in.  Their lives changed, but rarely for the better.

And Politics.  Yes, Jeremy Corbyn has dangled the offer of real change.  And many young voters have succumbed, but the flip side is that many older Labour supporters have not and have clung to the Tories, who may be hopeless but at least they aren’t really going to change things too much.  In the euphoria of Labour’s resurgence last Summer we must not forget that although Mrs. May lost seats, she gained many votes, and not all from determined Brexiteers either.

Maybe the battle between ‘Stability’ and ‘Change’ has always been there.  And who knows which will win out at the next election.  Predictions of Mrs. May demise keep being overrun by the simple fact that there is no-one else and the Tories, who may despise her are terrified of another election.  So do we really want change?  Only time will tell.


Friday 24th November

Out of it, just blissfully out of it, that was all Harriet was seeking.  Fucking Oblivion.  No more thinking about her mother, no more studies, no more Jane hanging around her like some sort of miserable shadow.  No – just oblivion, total nothingness in her tired head.  They don’t understand her, they think she wants excitement, action, something happening, something going on.  No, all she wants is complete nothingness. O-fucking-blivion.

*  * *

So, this day was precious to Jane, despite the fact that none of her family knew what had happened to their father, though pretty soon it would all come to light.  It unfolded like some sort of Japanese origami puzzle.  As each intricate fold in the paper was straightened out they could see a bit more of the picture.   The Police would come round every evening to ‘brief’ her mother; she wondered whether this was standard procedure or if they were given special treatment being the family of ‘someone’, it was still a time of deference to people who had influence and money.  Come to think of it that hasn’t really changed at all over the years.  The Bentley had been seen all over the place, it was a car that people noticed, but no confirmed sightings, nothing definite, so they still had no idea where he had gone.

The town’s Bank Manager’s confirmed their worst fears, he had withdrawn a few sums of money from client’s accounts, and his partners at the office were urgently reviewing their accounting records to see what he had been up to.  Obviously no good at all, Jane had no doubts on that score. Her mother also discovered that the house was heavily mortgaged, which meant that potentially they might lose it, if her father was eventually caught and found guilty.  At sixteen this hardly seemed to matter, Jane had never really thought about the fact that they lived in a big house, and how they had come by it.  She just assumed that they had pots of money somewhere that had paid for everything.  She had no idea about mortgages and debts, and how ordinary people struggled.  The girls had never had to struggle for anything, it just seemed normal to live in a big house.  She had hardly even asked myself why some people lived in big houses with lots of spare rooms and others were crammed into tiny little boxes.

She was only just beginning to develop any sort of a social conscience, and while she was quite involved with following the struggles of the blacks in America, and had lately been reading and being enraged by Ian Smith and UDI in Rhodesia, it never connected in her mind with the fact that her family were very privileged, and that in truth everything was inter-connected.  That the very fact that they were rich, or lived a rich lifestyle, was the result of other people, somewhere else in the world, being deprived.   This was the beginnings of her political awareness, her desire to put right some of what was wrong with the world, to maybe correct the injustices she saw everywhere.  But back then it was all a bit mushy, just a sort of desire to do some good in the world, not to really change anything.

*  * *


And Phil doesn’t ever want to go back.  He feels quite content here.  His life has made no sense to him so far, it’s as if it was all written for him by someone else, his father most likely, or June, or just circumstances – he really doesn’t know.  Certainly not Phil, it was never what he wanted – he just read the lines and acted out the part, day after day turning up and saying the words expected of him.  But now he was out of it, at least for a while.  He has stepped away from the machine, thrown his script away and he feels free, a boy of ten again.

Sort of.   Because he knows they will find him, sooner or later – it’s only a matter of time.  He could never have expected for a moment to get away with it, life isn’t like that, is it?  But it is peaceful here, and he can see the sea from this window.  That’s the wonderful thing, to be able to see the sea.  Maybe that’s what’s been missing from his life; an ocean to watch, some way of trying to measure himself against, to understand what it all means.  Even if it’s just for a while, before he is forced, or dragged, back into the real world again.

His father is the key to it all, he thinks.  Phil never understood him, what made him tick. He was always judging myself somehow by his ideas, his standards.  And look how woefully short he fell.  But maybe that’s always been the problem; he had never lived his life by his own rules, always by other’s.  The only thing he ever saw that he really wanted was June, and he made damned sure I got her.  But now it turns out he never had her at all.   All the time she was in love with Ted.  The one thing he thought he had, the one thing he had achieved off his own bat, turned out to not be his at all.  He had studied for five long years and had tried, despite evidence to the contrary, to do the right thing, to be someone, to make his father proud of me, to provide a decent home for June and the girls.

And what reward did he get for all of that?  To be kicked in the teeth, to have been deceived, and for years too.  It wasn’t as if it had only just happened once or twice, some stupid mistake.  No, this had been going on for years and years.  And he like a fool had known nothing, hadn’t suspected a damned thing.  And what the hell did she see in him anyway?  He hardly had any conversation, he knew nothing of the world and will never amount to anything, he is just a farmhand.  A stupid farmhand, but maybe that is exactly what she wanted, someone to be as un-Phil-like as it is possible to be.  As a student he can remember reading a tattered and torn copy of ‘Lady Chatterley’ that did the rounds.  Rubbish, he thought, pretentious and ridiculous, not even good wanking material.  What is it with women that they are so bloody contrary?  But not even Lady Chatterley had thrown it in her husband’s face quite like this.

“And how could you June?” Phil cried to the open, vast and empty sea, “How could you have done that to me.  It breaks my heart even to think about it.  And even if I am crying for myself and my own stupidity, that doesn’t make these tears any less real.”


Y – is for Neil Young – The Confusing Eighties – Reactor to ragged Glory

Thursday 23rd November

During the Eighties Neil released many albums but no two were anything like it’s predecessor or in fact anything else in his catalogue.  ‘Reactor’ was a straight rock album but with touches of synthesiser. ‘Trans’ was electronic and most of his vocals were sung through a vocoder;; Neil later defended this saying his mentally handicapped son Ben like this voice.  Actually; I really like this record, especially ‘Transformer Man’.  Neil had changed record companies and his new label Geffen, though originally agreeing to allow Neil complete artistic freedom demanded a hit rock’n’roll album.  Neil fell out with them and offered a country record which they rejected, so he gave them ‘Everybody’s Rockin’ a 50’s style rockabilly record, which Geffen and most of his fans hated. He explained the inspiration for the album in 1995, saying that “there was very little depth to the material obviously. They were all ‘surface’ songs but see, there was a time when music was like that, when all pop stars were like that. And it was good music, really good music….Plus it was a way of further destroying what I’d already set up. Without doing that, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing now. If I build something up, I have to systematically tear it right down before people decide, ‘Oh that’s how we can define him.'”

And that explains a lot about Neil.  But he also seemed to be searching for new sounds, new ways of portraying his songs.  His country album emerged next as ‘Old Ways’ and again bombed with his fans, despite having beautiful songs on it.  ‘Landing on Water’ was a synth heavy album that sounded just like many MOR rock bands of the Eighties. ‘Life’ was back with Crazy Horse and one of his best records in years, familiar territory with a punch – only to be followed by ‘This Note’s for You’, almost a 50’s jazz crooner album.  He ended this difficult decade with two ‘classic’ Neil Young albums ‘Freedom’ and ‘Ragged Glory’.  Back on form again these were big hits for him.  I also have maybe the best Neil Young record ever t00 – a Bootleg of a concert in 1986 with Crazy Horse – it is incredible.

But though I, like most of his fans was confused by Neil’s ever changing moods during the 80’s  – listening again now – the songs are as brilliant as ever.  Brilliant tunes on every record, and slowly I am beginning to really like them.  A bit like Bowie and Dylan, he has never been afraid to follow his muse and lose fans along the way.  It was never about ‘fame’ and ‘fortune’ – it was always about the music.

I Have Lived many Lives – 3

Wednesday 22nd November

How can I put this?  For those of you of a nervous disposition please stop reading now.  As I approached my teenage years the ugly, or some might say – the beautiful – idea of sex came to the forefront of my mind.  It is difficult to really know, as even memories are unreliable, but even as a child I was curious.  One or two incidents remain – my three cousins lifting their skirts and revealing their bums and no knickers; a girl at Junior school who once brazenly showed me her ‘noonie’; seated cross-legged in the Hall at school listening to some classical music and I turned round and saw a girl whose ill-fitting knickers were showing her tiny sex.  And all I really ever saw was a crease where I, a boy, had a willie.  And we knew nothing back then.  There was no internet, no real pornography (a copy of health and Efficiency, the nudist mag was furtively passed around and we saw long-distance shots of airbrushed dark shadows, still leaving us in ignorance).  Which in a funny sort of way was good – unlike kids of today who think they have seen it all long before being confronted by the real thing. Mind you, that very ignorance was a spur to our endeavours for discovery.  Everyone wanted to find out about sex, or more precisely, the opposite sex.  Our parents and school had kept us in such ignorance that we were blindly groping in the dark – literally.  Snogging behind the youth club hall in some dark corner away from prying eyes as I wormed my fingers inside a bra, our kisses intense and hot was as far I got in my attempts to conquer girls.

And older boys behind the bike shed, while passing around a cigarette (I coughed and spluttered with these, much like my attempts in discovering female anatomy) would boast of their achievements or imagined conquests.

I did have a couple of girlfriends.  But I was quite scared, in reality, of going too far.  Besides kissing and a hand inside a bra was so exciting anyway and the occasional hand a bit lower but definitely outside was as far as I was either allowed, or allowed myself to dare to go.

A virgin at Seventeen, but then I am sure all my classmates were too, and anyway the next part of my life was about to start.

The Sound of Pigeons Returning to Roost

Tuesday 21st November

When the Referendum was announced, and all through the worst campaign in History we were bombarded by lies and promises from the Brexiteers.  A brave new future lay just around the corner.  Millions per week for the NHS; controlling our borders (in other words stopping all these pesky foreigners coming in and stealing our jobs and homes, (why they are even given a council house key and money as they arrive at Dover); freeing ourselves from the shackles of Europe; gaining the freedom to trade with the rest of the World….and so on.  The amazing thing is that anyone believed a word of it….but they did.

And we even had the likes of Boris and Rees-Mogg declaring that legally we would have to pay the Europeans nothing and that we could simply walk away.  We don’t like the way they play football, why they even have their own referee (the ECJ) so we will take our ball away and play teams we can win against – like Saudi Arabia or Jamaica or the USA or Iceland (oops).  This seemed to be the euphoric mood 17 months ago.

But now as the negotiations are getting bogged down, and the promised (even better than the Single Market) new trade deal is still not even on the agenda – put your ear to the door of No. 10.  What is that we can hear?  A faint fluttering sound, a gentle cooing, a few scratching’s at the wood paneling.  I do believe that it is the sound of Pigeons coming home to Roost.

A few weeks ago, Mrs May offered a paltry £18 billion as our payment up to 2020.  Now in desperation the cabinet, which we must not forget contains the mad trio of Gove, Johnson and Fox, are faced with the reality that unless they increase this, to at least double – and maybe even an open-ended commitment (because the EU is insisting on our contribution to pensions – and who can tell how long those officials will live for?).  And problem number two, which we will have to cave in to also is the rights of EU citizens currently living in the U.K. (Oh, so they won’t all be kicked out after all…but you said…) And the intractable Irish border question – it looks to me as if the Irish Border will soon be moved de facto into the Irish Sea, and where will that leave the DUP Tory Alliance?

But the real problem is still to come.  Unless the UK agrees that we will still be subject to rulings by the European Court of Justice we won’t get any sort of trade deal at all.

Pretty soon that gentle cooing will be drowned our by the howls of anguish from those Tory M.P.s and Ukip nutters who, accompanied by the Mail and the Telegraph and the Express and the Sun will all be screaming….TRAITORS.

Until then, keep your little ears to the door and hear just how many sweet little pigeons are flying back to the roost.