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Friday, July 11, 2014

What's next?

I have been holding off writing this blog for a while because it never seemed to be the right time to do it and it's just shouting into the void anyway, so is therefore a bit pointless. As I have made a small commitment to sharing my thoughts on things from time to time, I suppose I have to keep going.

When I celebrated my birthday last month, I hit a milestone that has been on my mind for forty years. On that day, I had officially lived longer than my own father did. He never made his 52nd birthday. I did. That sounds a bit morbid and yes, I am a bit maudlin and reflective tonight - and a bit drunk - but it is still important to me to record that I consider this to be an achievement.

I was 12 when Dad died. He was 51. He always seemed to be on night shift. We didn't really see much of each other. I don't know if that makes it easier or more difficult to lose somebody. As a bereaved 12-year-old boy I was, of course, angry and selfish. How dare he smoke himself to death just when I was beginning to realise that I needed a father figure? And so on.

Years passed, as they tend to do. I'm not a spiritual person, I don't hold any beliefs that relate to what lies beyond this earthly form. I have been a father myself for 24 years and all that time, I have thought "if I die now, what residue of me remains?" and "how cheated will my children feel for the loss of their Dad?" Those are largely imponderables, but to give some kind of answer to the first one, I would urge my children not to keep me in a pot in a cupboard somewhere - look in a bloody mirror! Half of you, my children, is what I am. Enjoy that much, for what it's worth. Would they feel cheated? I hope not. I've been on my own kind of night shift, but never out of reach.

Not that I intend to go any time soon. I have what the technology has hinted might be my first son to look forward to. That's going to be an adventure and, when he's old enough to absorb my words of wisdom, I'll make sure that he knows to live longer than me. If we can keep it going, eventually someone in my family is going to be properly immortal.

So, Dad, there are a couple of places where memories hang in the air, but they are not the cold ground in which you lie. I only have bitter memories of that place and that day. But if you stand up near the cemetery wall, you can look down towards the river where we used to go. Or I can look in the mirror.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

I'm sorry, John ...

Having spent an evening in the company of master wordsmiths Mike Garry and John Cooper Clarke, I thought I would try an homage to the latter. If you get a chance to see either of these brilliant men performing, grab it. Even if poetry is not your thing.

Anyway, here's a short one in the style of JCC. Sorry John.


Denim-clad, hormones in flux
I marked the days and all the fucks
I didn't give about the scene
Described in Smash Hits magazine.
I had my mum take in my flares,
I revelled in John's vacant stares.
I drank light ale, it made me drunk
The day that I invented punk.

'God save the Queen'. The village rang
With obscene strangled songs I sang
On adolescent foot patrol,
On fire with hate and rock n roll.
But no one heard the angry kid
Or felt the ennui I did -
They were indoors watching TV
The day that punk invented me.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Circle of Life

I had one of those days yesterday. One of those days when particular themes seem to come together. In the morning, we had our first antenatal appointment with the consultant. After the miscarriage last year, the past few weeks of very early pregnancy have been a rollercoaster, with every day ticked off as one nearer the sad landmark. Dare we be happy and optimistic? It's hard not to be, but underlying every little flutter of excitement is that dread. Particularly so when we had a scare last week. That was a bad night. We didn't really relax until we had had an emergency scan and could see the little pulse of life.

So we live in hope and fear. The appointment with the consultant was the regular thing, the 12-week scan. Baba was waving its tiny arm, a stark and happy contrast to the stark, still image we had seen last year and all the heartache and physical awfulness that followed. The joy at this movement, and the whooshing of the tiny heart, was tempered by the sobering advice for the older mother, the tests we could have, the odds and possibilities of genetic problems. We're not having any tests. What will be will be. No child will be loved any less, whatever the outcome. Sobering, but not enough to take the edge off our joy. Don't worry though, I'm not turning into that person that tweets every dull and dismal detail of their offspring's development. I was a new dad 24 years ago, the wonder has faded a bit.

Then I hit the road for Belfast, to show my support for a dear friend at a funeral. Whatever we say or wish for ourselves, whatever instructions we leave for those left behind, there is no getting past the grief and loss and, as an outsider, I felt the real love for the departed. The Minister, unwittingly but fittingly, found a resonance with my own thoughts about life and mortality on this day in particular. He reminded the gathered that life is fragile and limited. We all face death. I could not help drifting off into my own internal world of loss and renewal and I realised that the Minister was right - you have to live while you're alive. On the way home I was also reminded of something John Lennon said, paraphrased as: "life is what happens while you're busy making plans".

So, in summary, the universe had conspired to make a point to me: what will be will be, the result is the same. All you can do is change how you get there. I decided to stop worrying about stuff. One day at a time, sweet Jesus ...

Friday, September 20, 2013

What the Hell was Kate Bush singing about??

Kate Bush
She's so quirky.
I love Kate Bush. She nearly got me suspended from school once for bunking off to queue up for tickets to see her tour back in the 1970s. I also met some acquaintances of hers on a school field trip once. They said she was a pain in the arse. I think they were maybe just a teeny bit jealous. Anyway, When 'Wuthering Heights' was a new thing, it was quite unlike anything we had heard before. I knew it was loosely based on the novel of the same name.

But what the hell was she singing about? Well, now it can be revealed. Listen to this video and read these lyrics at the same time. If you can. Or listen and read. You know what I mean. Who Theo Kaffio-Concolman is may never be known.

Wuthering Heights

Out on the whiny, windy moor
Sweet Roland fall in brie.
You had distemper, like my jealous seed
Too hot, too greasy.
How could you leave me when I need a tube?
Possess you, I ate a chew
I loved U2.
Bat dreams in the night -
You told me I was going too loose, too polite
Leave behind my wuthering, wuthering, wuthering heights.

Here Cliff, it's Theo Kaffio-Concolman
So go-o-o-o, let me in, oh your wind! Oh oh oh oh!
Here Cliff, it's Theo Kaffio-Concolman
So go-o-o-o, let me in, oh your wind! Oh oh oh oh!

Ooh, a guest's dark, a guest's lonely
On the other slide from you
I pine a lot, I find a lot.
Paul's through without you.
Wanna bag now? Cool - he's Cliff
My wandering, myopic master.
Too longer room in the night
Come in't back to his slide
To pull it right.
Coming home to wuthering, wuthering, wuthering heights.

Here Cliff, it's Theo Kaffio-Concolman
So go-o-o-o, let me in, oh your wind! Oh oh oh oh!
Here Cliff, it's Theo Kaffio-Concolman
So go-o-o-o, let me in, oh your wind! Oh oh oh oh!

Ooh, Lemmy habit, let me grab your soap well
Ooh, Lemmy habit, let me grab your soap well
You'll always be crappy ...

Here Cliff, it's Theo Kaffio-Concolman
So go-o-o-o, let me in, oh your wind! Oh oh oh oh!
Here Cliff, it's Theo Kaffio-Concolman
So go-o-o-o, let me in, oh your wind! Oh oh oh oh!

Here Cliff, it's Theo Kaffio-Concolman
So go-o-o-o!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Brief encounters

Darren 'Wiz' Brown
You meet people from time to time who have an effect on your life beyond what you might expect. One of these, for me, was Wiz from Mega City 4 whom I was lucky enough to help interview for a student magazine in 1993. We spent probably twenty minutes with him in a corridor in a venue and he was lovely - open and down to earth. It was his music later that night that I really connected to. I love it still. When I read that Wiz had been taken ill and died in 2006, I felt I had lost something. Our relationship amounted to those twenty minutes, maybe a forty-five minute music set and my subsequent enjoyment of his music. I still feel sad that he's gone.

When I had a go at writing a novel, it inevitably drew on my lived experience. It was about an enduring love and I suppose I put a bit more of myself into it than is wise. The object of this enduring love was not based on a particular individual but was an confection of all my teenage crushes seasoned with a fair bit of imagination about how my fictional character might have dealt with such a situation. Fiction indeed, but what was true was the residue of emotion that those crushes left in the real me. These were people that had flitted through my life on the lightest of feet. But they had left heavy footprints.

So last Friday found me in the middle of a collapsing world, staring at a stark screen where, one week before, red and blue pixels had rippled with a tiny heartbeat. No heartbeat now, just the stark, silent fluorescing of the tiny bones destined never to grow and the gathering storm of grief flying around our heads.

Is there a silver lining? Of course there is. Things are a bit more vivid, I appreciate the good things that I have got. I am grateful in a way for the clarity, perspective and the feeling of renewal this grief has given me.

And I'm still sad. In that scrapbook in my heart where Wiz and the others who passed through have left a message there are a couple of pages dedicated to what might have been.

Life goes on.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Thomas Pynchon - his part in my tattoo

I haven't read any American literature since my O levels, back in the late 1970s. This was pretty much a choice. I didn't have the cultural toolkit to understand it. I felt, incorrectly, that film was somehow the cultural barometer. European films were cool and cerebral, British films were gritty and clever. Hollywood was crass and simplistic.

I was, of course, wrong. But I never had the chance to find out.

When Punk Rock found me, I was a blank page. More properly, I was a seething mass of adolescent tension desperate for something to latch on to. I never did the lifestyle. I was too middle class and timid for that. Saturday punk styling, cheap biker jacket from Camden Market ... But my head was awash with  the new thing. If you're thinking filth, fury and teenage rebellion, you're wrong. It's difficult now to disentangle the wheat from the chaff, the cartoon from the high art, the Plastique Bertrand from Buzzcocks.

And there we have it. Buzzcocks.

Something cataclysmic happened when the universe threw Buzzcocks and me together. Firstly, there was simply a thrilling energy to the music quite unlike anything I had experienced before. But that was just one facet. There was love and loss, yearning and triumph ... best of all, it was an instant text that I could relate to, a new intellectual buzz that transcended just words and music.

It's almost impossible to talk about punk now that you can buy glitter Ramones T shirts and Green Day albums. It's also a bit crass (see what I did there?) to claim some sort of punk moral high ground. It's also difficult to explain how energising the very idea of punk was. This was the ethos around Buzzcocks. A band - yes, but also a loose collective of hi-energy creativity. Linder Sterling, the young Stephen Morrissey, the great and the good of a particular place and time. If your understanding of punk rock is limited to Sid Vicious and spitting, our new-found friendship is, alas, over.

There's a core of intellect in the Buzzcocks canon. They gave us "Oh shit, I thought you and I were friends." They also gave us "I wandered loaded as a crowd, a nowherewolf of pain". Don't be fooled by the casual swearing and the distressed couture. Underneath all of that was a torrent of ideas. Ideas!

One of those ideas was the Secret Public. The paradox. A fan club, a society revelling in its own paradox. I never joined then. Buzzcocks was a solitary pursuit for me. My time with the Secret Public was to come later. But then, back then in the heady days, the scene was set. The icon of the Secret Public, that enclosed world within a world within a world was the muted post horn.

"In these times of contention it's not my intention to make things plain ..."

So somewhere in this weapons grade intellectual stew, someone had made a connection and repurposed the Trystero symbol from Thomas Pynchon's novella The Crying of Lot 49 to denote a new secret public society based on Buzzcocksworld. And that's how and why it eventually got on my arm.

The allusion is unambiguous. Essays longer than the book itself could be written to explain Pynchon's text. Through the Secret Public, I came to the symbol, and thence to the book. I like the parallels. I like the paradoxes. Can I explain the book? I cannot. It's a crazy trip. But not understanding is not a drawback. Some critics and even Pynchon himself hint that there is nothing to understand beyond the immediacy of the language itself and the loops and tricks it performs on your head.

I read the book. Twice. If you like language and if you can connect with the times from which it sprang and the labyrinth of references, you'll get more out of it than I did. But reading it made me feel different. The way punk rock did. I'll maybe read it again. Maybe.

Monday, July 2, 2012

#notmurdered - the beautiful and The Damned

Breakfast of champions
So Saturday morning does not bring the hangover I was dreading. The drinking was steady, I only had a couple of what I have heard recently described as 'cooking lagers' during the Buzzcocks show and after so the head's pretty good.

There is no possible way I could have consumed everything in @JelloPuss and @CardinalPhink's gift basket so I cram as many of the packets of goodies into my rucksack as I can. You never know when you'll need to get your face around some hairy pork fat, right?

Breakfast includes a bloody mary. It's a fine start to another exciting day. The sun is splitting the stones, another rock n roll adventure awaits. We even get to watch a bit of the qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix. I'm a happy boy.

The run to Liverpool airport is trouble-free. Almost. Note to airport car park operators: your car parks are confusing. Get it sorted.

Liverpool to Belfast, well you're no sooner up than you're down again. While my companions are getting their baggage, I go to pay for my parking. This is where disaster strikes. When I try to get some money, computer says 'no'. The car park ticket machine wants thirty-odd quid, I have to get petrol to get us out to our hosts on the other side of Belfast and back up to the North Coast the following day. And there's the small matter of socialising. My cards only get me enough to pay for the parking with a bit left over. Something's gone wrong again. Ah well. I genuinely don't know what to do or what has gone wrong.

We're on a tight schedule. We have to get to East Belfast to our hosts and then back into town to see The Damned at QUB. All the excitement that had been building all day has been sucked out of me. Time slips away. There's a burned-out bus on the M2 and the traffic is backed up. We also go awry in a certain estate. It's navigation device finger error, postcode digits transposed. Schoolboy error. We eventually arrive at @DeadbeatMum and @dirt_bird's sumptuous dwelling (helpfully picked out with  black goth flag accessory). A calming drink with a pomegranate seed in it helps get me on an even keel.

All my excitement for The Damned gig has been sucked out of me. While the gang (@CardinalPhink, @JelloPuss, @DeadbeatMum, @dirt_bird and @IsGrandmaThere [resplendent with a dashing purple streak]) are in Boojum having a delicious burrito, I'm pacing Botanic Avenue trying cash machines. Same deal, not a local error. I'm definitely out of funds. This was not in the script. Resolution? Generous friends. I'm humbled.

Just for you, here's a love song ...
So, on to QUB. There is a lot of black going on. And who's this? Maxine and Steve from Buzzcocksworld*, whom we also saw the night before in Manchester. Us aside, it's an odd crowd, actually quite unlike Buzzcocks the night before. It's nothing to do with provinciality either, The Damned have a quite unique following. Not so many middle-aged punk-curious here, it's a lot more alternative, grimly Gothy. Yes, there are the 77ers. Maybe they're here for The Defects who, from what I can hear, are living the punk rock dream still. Everything in their world that has happened since 1978 has happened to other people.

I've never seen The Damned. I have no reference points. Even so, I can say with conviction that this is one of the top five shows I have ever witnessed. It's the last night of the tour, maybe there's some additional playfulness in the delivery. The sound mix is clear and perfect, the band look upbeat. We get it all - theatre, banter, fun, hits ... everything a performance should offer. Dave Vanian is in fine voice and, despite his dark and serious persona, you get the feeling that he's having a ball. Captain Sensible cannot fail to make you feel happy. He's a paradox, a pantomime creation with divine guitar skills that kill stone dead the idea that punks can't play. That's a nonsense. And what songs! It's just a sensory battering of the most glorious kind. And for me, another piece slotted into my personal punk jigsaw. I'd have been happy if they had performed the whole set again. And again.

And then it's over. We're corralled into the bar for a Goth Disco. It begins promisingly with 'A Forest' but soon industrial music takes over. I already know how Goths dance, I've seen it in Germany. Seems it's the same here. Feet still, a lot of gloomy arm waving ...

We roll home to East Belfast. I'm feeling battle fatigue, I'm looking forward to my own bed on up the road. But that's tomorrow night. The craic and company are first class. The next day brings sausages, more sun, a Grand Prix al fresco and a leisurely run up the Antrim Coast behind the world's slowest driver. And then home. I'm shattered.

And that's where we leave this odyssey. To return to the central theme in this thread of blogs - #notmurdered. It might seem foolish to entrust yourself to the mercies of strangers.

"I can't think of many other circumstances in which you would blindly put yourself in the care of people you had never met."
Well, I did. My life has been enriched because of it. You can find good people via social media. New friends that feel like old friends. And for the record, I didn't murder anyone either.

*was nice also to meet (albeit briefly) @marshwigglegoth @5Lighters. Apologies if I have missed anyone else.

Read parts one, two, three and four of this punk rock odyssey.
If you like my writing, please consider giving my novel a go - thanks!