Lockdown Music


Turntable back in action after a few tech issues over lockdown. Trying to play along to this classic on acoustic guitar after too much Merlot.

Conversations with Dog Nature

Conversations with Dog

Today is the first day I’ve remembered to go out consciously with the @natureasnurture Nature Connection Challenge in mind. Some thoughts…

I take the dog – well, carry him – to the park, as he’s too old and lame to manage it on his own. Billie Holiday is playing from the flats as we cross the road to the entrance. It’s sunny but with a reduced pallet, as if over-exposed. The colours are washed out now. A cool breeze dances around near the big old trees by the road, which sway with a sound like a gentle sea. 

The old thorn tree that my kids used to play on – it was a pirate ship and the branches also doubled up as the goalposts for spontaneous football matches – is now little more than a lump of crumbling dry rotten mulch. I start to reminisce about time going by too fast but the dog stops me. He sometimes talks to me (in an irascible Prince Philip type voice) and says I have to try to live more in the present. Stop being so sentimental. I move my hand over the soft wood.

It has a dusty wine smell reminiscent of LPs bought in dark indie record shops, perhaps on visits to Glasgow or Edinburgh back in the early 80s (something like The Fire Engines’ Lubricate Your Living Room, say) – a particular piece of wood that I break off and put in my pocket looks like a flaky Lego cube of dried mushroom and smells of my dad’s old Benny Goodman EPs that he kept in the lift up compartment of the old wooden radiogram. 

“Stop going backwards,” says the dog. “We are in the fucking park. Live for NOW.”

The dirt is pale grey, the leaves have little colour. Or is it my eyes? I hear traffic and  kids shouting, kicking around a plastic bottle filled with water. There are oak leaves on the floor, some with acorns attached. The ground feels hard, dry, flaking away. On the way home, carrying the dog once more, I meet a very pissed couple coming the other way. They start talking to me… about the dog.
“See,” says the dog. “I am right here, in the moment”.

I feel that cool breeze again and notice the old woman on our road has cut back her Jasmine bush.

Books Lost rivers Walking

Old walks on the New River

20 years ago I started a project that involved walking the buried rivers of London while high on extra strength lager. I chose this technique because in those days I was curious but also perhaps a bit lazy and wanted an instant hit of insight into the rhythms and invisible boundaries of the city. 
At the moment on our quick morning walks I’m revisiting some of the nearby routes I used to do back then – especially the Highbury back streets, the Brownswood area to the east of Green Lanes and the New River loop around Woodberry Down – noticing the rise and fall of the ground, the light, the sounds and the smells, the age of the buildings. Most days I haven’t even had a coffee before we set out.  Maybe I’m more relaxed than I used to be.

Breakfast Food and Drink Philosophy

Signs and Meaning In a Full English Breakfast

Birthday breakfast (cooked by Cindo), with Lincolnshire sausages from Market Rasen (the Lancasters’ recipe). Always a good start to the new year – the sage in the sausages represents memory and the past, the eggs new life and the future. The hot and sweet of Dijon mustard symbolises the ups and downs of our emotions. Tomatoes represent fertility and the need for a well maintained greenhouse. Fried potatoes symbolise our nurturing of the earth and the belief that heated up leftovers are surely the greatest gift we have.

Memory Microseasons Walking

South Lane

It is late February, which in my beloved Japanese microseason calendar it’s called “mist starts to linger”. It’s not humid and warm in North Lincolnshire, so a yellerbelly version of that would be “wind and mist make love while drizzle watches”. The gargantuan fields of Lincolnshire are majestic in their brown-grey nothingness. I have always loved the bleakness of this view. When I lived here I had the front bedroom and would look over this same massive field (pre-enclosure it was called South Field) and it felt like never ending greyness and nothingness. No features. No activity. Then one night in summer the field would be full of machinery then nothing for the other 364 days.

South Lane was always the biggest ‘hill’ in a town on the edge of the great flat plain – as kids we’d ride our bikes down here and skid stop before we hit the main road. Market Rasen lived in a world of flatness, where you had a sense that everyone could see what you were doing because there were no hills to hide behind. The only feeling you would get of a deviation from this horizontal norm was in the western edge of the town. Walking along King Street, with its seen-better-days Georgian houses, you could feel a pull on your shins (or your calves – depending on which way you were walking) due to an imperceptible incline. But you had to be on your own, and slightly bored, to notice it.

It was just outside the town boundary, in a 200 yard zone before the start of the next village that we called No Man’s Land. South Lane is the old parish boundary between Market and Middle Rasen. The right angle bend would be following the enclosure of the huge South Field from 1772.

The hill had its own name – Mount Pleasant. To get there you turned off the B631. On the ubiquitous Google Maps its descried as ‘Green Lane’, ie. it’s a byway that’s in the countryside and too small to bother about. Or maybe when Google employees went to the area nobody would tell them what it was called. I hope it was this one. If you keep going along South Lane, after about half a mile it veers at 90 degrees to the west and continues for another half a mile to Mill Lane. (I lived in this neighbourhood for 12 years, but I never knew this until about ten years after I moved away. I think that was because Mount Pleasant somehow seemed so forbidding that we didn’t go too far.)

Strolling in this old rural scene I recall that back in the early 80s my friends and I found a black plastic bag full of old porn mags in the ditch at the bottom of South Lane. We took them back to Stavesy’s house just nearby and flicked through them, “reading the very interesting articles” as I said to my parents the next day after word had got out about our haul.

Nature Pub reviews Walking

A post-pub nature ramble

I’ve been to the pub. There are leaves everywhere. Autumn on three pints of beer is amazing.

The legendary wall on the other side of the road from the Sylvanian Family shop. We have a Sylvanian narrow boat with the rabbit family on it… plus some Airfix soldiers and some Happy Meal toys.

Hard to believe I used to work for Amateur Photographer…

It’s one in the morning and I’ve had some supper (left overs fry up) and have just written a song in my head about Trump and climate change – A, Am thingy, D7, D the other one… our out of tune piano is calling me but I’m a bit worried I might wake up the whole street once I get going on the ‘Hey Jude’ style “wanker” chorus. Maybe bed and a dream think is a better approach…

Bands Mandolin Music

The South Benfleet Folk Orchestra

Lovely playing with The South Benfleet Folk Orchestra last night at Chalkwell Hall, accompanying the beautiful melancholy Estuary folk pop songs of @dougcheese (Imagine if Nick Drake was in The Fire Engines and they were all involved in the Astral Weeks sessions.) – with @janfrancheeseman on bass and Ian Preece/Third Light Home on ambient soundscape improvisation… and me on one/two string noodling mandola. (Ta to Doug for the pic.) Supporting the great voices and music of @abiwade and @alexandercarsonmusic.

For soundscapist Ian Preece’s recollections of the night, go to… his review on Caught By The River.

Bacon sandwich and a coffee Cafe reviews

Starbucks, Highbury Corner

As usual on a Saturday late morning I’ve dropped 7 year old off at football then rushed to grab a coffee and continue my ongoing Great Lincolnshire Novel. But I can’t get a seat anywhere. It’s Arsenal v Spurs today , starting early at 12.45. So everywhere round here is packed, even the coffee bars. How did I not know this? There was a time, not that long ago, when the first page I turned to in the papers was the Sport. Then the news, then international news, then the sport again to check if there’s anything I’d missed (not motor racing, horse racing or tennis, though, of course – but proper sport like football, rugby, boxing, cricket).

But now I have to read the Review section first, find out about the latest short story collections, history books, kids’ stories. This morning, rather than checking to see what the opinion was about the North London derby, or talk about the upcoming Ashes series, I’d turned first to Maggie O’Farrell’s short piece about the late poet Michael Donaghy in The Guardian. Sport isn’t like ‘’Finance’ or ‘Work’ sections – it doesn’t get used for cleaning boys’ football boots or clearing out the ashes. It’s also still not on a par with ‘Travel’ or ‘Family’, which are put in a ‘saved’ pile to read on a rainy day. But when the rainy day comes, we’ll cook soups, watch a film or look for pianos on Ebay or just stare out of the window.

I queue up for ages at Starbucks behind noisy  fans buying skinny lattes then edge my way down the back where the fans disappear and it’s just mums and dads with prams and Guardians or students with laptops.

It’s a latte with an extra shot, with a BLT. It’s obviously not a proper bacon sandwich. For a start, the bacon is cold. How could it be otherwise when it’s covered in tomato and lettuce.  They should have a big pan of bacon on the go at all times. The bread is good – tastes like granary Hovis. Too much mayonnaise on it though. And of course there’s no brown sauce. The coffee? It’s OK, but there’s just too much of it, and even with the extra shot it’s drowned in gloopy hot milk.

Is that Frank and Nancy Sinatra singing “I Love You’ on the speakers? No, it’s the rubbish Nicole Kidman and Robbie Williams version. The sound of muzak, jetplane woosh of the coffee machine and general hubbub makes me hear an extra layer of tinnitus, like a water rushing through a weir in my eardums. Brown sauce might have made it go away.

Bacon sandwich and a coffee Cafe reviews

Noo Noo & Bebo’s, Kentish Town Road, London NW5

I was passing this when I saw the chalkboard sign “The best coffee in London”.  There was no mention about who had bestowed this accolade – possibly the owner – but it certainly made me curious.

Noo Noo and Bebo’s (Even though I double checked, I’m sure I’ve got the name wrong) is a tiny café, about the size of a big school store cupboard. At one stage there were about eight people in there, some ordering, others just chatting or listening to the French rap music that was playing on the speakers.

For my sandwich I was asked “white or brown bread, love?” I asked for brown and so, a short while later, a neat little white bread bacon sarnie appeared. The brown sauce was a bit sweet – Daddy’s rather than HP perhaps – and the bacon was a little stiff and not quite fatty enough.

But the coffee really was very good. I had a latte with an extra shot. This is my current crush as I try to wean myself off Americanos.  Admittedly latte with an extra shot is the alcopop of the caffeine world but Americanos after lunch give me a headache as well as flashbacks to a rugby tour to Paris in the mid 1980s. But this lovely little latte – which was like a kind and gentle, hair strokey version of an espresso – reminded me of sitting in an apartment in Mamers, France with my pen friend and his cousin, staring at flowered wallpaper and discussing the works of Laurent Voulzy.

Afterwards I walked up Highgate Road to pick my daughter up from school. On the way I passed The HMV Forum (formerly the Town and Country Club) which I last went to in 1991 to see a Throwing Muses gig. Even though I’ve been in London for over twenty years I’ve never walked the stretch from The Forum up to the railway bridge (which I’ve previously approached from the  north). Another little piece of London is now joined up in my mind.


Poppies and Fighting

Poppy, First World WarOn 11/11 I always think of my grandad, who fought in the First World War. He volunteered in 1914 and was invalided out a few months before the Battle of the Somme two years later. But then I think of the two minutes silence and our contemplation of  “the fallen”.

Except they didn’t ‘fall’, they were mown down in freezing mud by machine guns after being conscripted to fight some kind of hellish jingoistic empire/turf war. Not quite as snappy, is it? So everyone wears a poppy for a couple of weeks – more now than, say, 30 years ago when I was a teenager – but rarely these days is the question asked “what was it for?”

At some point in the not so distant future will the poppy stop being a symbol of the hopeless sacrifice of the common man caught up in the military-industrial machine of the early 20th Century and instead become a sign of our respect/acceptance for the waging of a 1984-style perpetual war on terror?