I Remember

Music has always been with me and I have always been with music, I remember my first ‘personal stereo’ cassette player back when Walkmans were really Walkmans and the Grundigs and Thorns did the same for less money. I don’t really remember my dad being interested in music at all, maybe sometimes humming a big band tune now or then. My mum had a few records, Roy Orbison, the Carpenters and the like. She would always sing along to the radio in the car which was always tuned to BBC Radio 1 back then when we were lucky if the radio had an 8 Track player let alone a cassette tape player. My oldest brother recorded his Bowie records for me and I spent many hours digesting Space Oddity, the Laughing Gnome, the Little Bombardier, Life on Mars and all the others, not really understanding, aged just 9, what was unfolding through my headphones. New music came my way – Beatles tapes from my Mum’s friend Maggie, Queen and Dire Straits, 6th Form influences of Goth with the Sisters of Mercy, the Mission and Fields of the Nephilim and the explosion of the Los Angeles sleaze metal scene headed by the unknown but soon to be very well known Guns n’ Roses, Faster Pussycat and the German metal bands Helloween and Accept and many others in between.

In all of this though, one thing I knew was that no matter how much music I listened to or how many concerts or gigs I saw there was never the slightest possibility that I would ever be able to make music. Of this one thing I was sure, I couldn’t play an instrument, I couldn’t sing and like the other talents in life I didn’t have like being sporty or artistic or out-going I just accepted my place in life because at least I was kind of smart and if I got good grades and a good job everything would be ok.

In my later teenage years I picked up a guitar and learned some rudimentary chords, I learned that although I could remember the chord shapes I could never remember the order to play them in to play a song, let alone remember the words. I saw other friends grow in talent in leaps and bounds and I was left strumming quietly in my bedroom with a couple of song books and a borrowed guitar.

Suddenly it was the mid-nineties and the internet had been invented, I had no hope of tabbing songs for myself of hearing a chord or key being played and knowing what it was. The internet opened a new world of others tabbing songs and uploading them to ftp servers back when the internet was more than just world wide web, it was ftp, it was gopher, it was irc and a whole lot more in between.

I began to download song sheets with chords and found that I could now passably play and sing along to the Dog’s D’Amour and Counting Crows although I knew how bad it must sound and that’s how I remained, occasionally playing on borrowed guitars for the next twenty or so years.

Unlearning the programming, the Shadows of the past is a journey. It started with the gnawing sensation that there must be something more to this, with a two day corporate ‘Effective Communications’ workshop that taught me that I was not my thoughts and opened the door to this journey of discovery.

I wrote a lot of poetry at this time, performed a lot of it until the well ran dry. I’m happy I had it for a time and look forward to its return. Another chance remark from someone asking if I wrote songs as well percolated in my brain for a year or two until last spring half a dozen songs fell out. But what was I to do with them – they don’t read like poems and I can’t sing or play them, other than the in the safety of my own living room. So I picked up the guitar with earnest, learnt to finger pick over the summer and actually, finally, bought my own guitar.

How many hurdles had I crossed to have the stuttering confidence to walk into a guitar shop – a guitar shop! With real musicians playing real music! What the hell did I think I was doing? One corner of the store was a sea of acoustic guitars and we must have played every single one of them. Of course the guitar I fell in love with didn’t tick any of my pre-conceived boxes – it’s fully acoustic, doesn’t have a cut-away so I can’t reach anything below the twelfth fret and it was £150 or so below budget.

So fast forward to now, three weeks ago to be precise when I saw my friend Joey had a banjo. “I just play for myself”, he said, “I don’t care how I sound”. A few days later I heard him play and he could play. He showed me ‘clawhammer’ style – “strike, strum, thumb!” and a blue-grass finger picking roll. As I was leaving he lent me his banjo and urged me to search YouTube for Patrick Costello to learn how to play. I didn’t really understand why as I thought it was just a matter of learning some new chord shapes and getting some speedy finger picking practice in. How wrong could I be, the banjo is a craft all of it’s own, with percussion, chords and melody all in one. Patrick urges us to play, and better than to play is to share and show someone else how to play, to go out in the world and make music. He tells us that anyone can sing, anyone can play.

I made a couple of short videos of me playing the banjo after one week and after three weeks, just something to remember how it was when I started and hopefully see the improvement in the coming weeks and to spread the word and work and boundless enthusiasm of Patrick Costello. I didn’t make a video after week two – I was too self-conscious to record it with anyone else in the house. But then I made this, I’m not sure why. I can see all the flaws in it but in the words of Johnny Cash in his version of the Streets of Laredo I’ll “not mention his name and his name will pass on”.


It Must Have Been Ritual

That’s what the future archaeologists will say about my fireplace. 

Once, fire was the centre of the house and the centre of our lives. We tamed it, trained it and built chimneys take the smoke away. We celebrated our achievements and decorated the place of the fire, or fireplace, with a mantelpiece. Now the fire has gone and the mantelpiece becomes the place of the TV, rather like Roman temples replaced Neolithic sacred places and were later replaced themselves by Christian churches. TV is the centre of the household now. Praise be to TV.

And now, after the TV has gone, there just remains a bracket bolted to the wall. It is the clue but not the reason, the tantalising glimpse into what was. The archaeologists will say it was ‘ritual’, why else would we have suspended something above our very special fireplaces?


“An old man sees better behind himself than a young man sees in front of himself.” – Czech Proverb

The salmon is destined for one purpose and one purpose only and that is to return to its birthplace and spawn a new generation. One purpose from its birth, to reproduce. And what if it fails in that purpose? Is that a life wasted? Do we go to a symphony recital to wait for and listen to the last note, or do we enjoy the whole with the ending as important as the start or the middle. Each note is its own, its own existence, its own life, its own measure of importance.
This salmon lived its life to its full extent, it spawned, it travelled the treacherous trail to the sea and lived and grew and made its return journey upstream. It negotiated the Bristol Channel and ploughed upstream into the Wye and one hundred miles of downward flow and weirs and waterfalls until one day it stopped and just died. Here on my doorstep, on my beach. Exhausted in the struggle against the relentless flow of the Wye, it just died and now it lays in the water, a shallow grave.
What is a life if it is lived unfulfilled? Who gets to judge fulfilment or unfulfilment?
How will you live this one precious life?

Wild Swimming

Air Temp: 11 oC Water Temp: 11 oC

Slightly foggy, a mist had descended during the day, but a day sat at the table was too much and the river was calling with its soft call. 
And I knew it was cold outside and I knew the water would be cold.
No, not cold, but invigorating, bracing, alive!
And so down to the river I head.
I run, I figure better to be warm on the outside than to stand and shiver at the edge.
Boats, coming downstream, a change of plan and up to the rope swing and I pause.
And wait again.
And finally I climb down and in.
Feet, calves, knees, thighs, trunks and I just stand there.
It’s not that cold.
But the mind is loud and the fear of cold is strong, even though I’m standing there in it.
I draw back, then advance slowly.
Millimetre by millimetre and one centimetre later I am still in the same place.
And then I swim.
Yes, it’s cold, and no, it’s not cold.
Not like ice, I’m not shivering, it’s just cold.
And I swim upstream a bit and downstream a bit and repeat.
And then it’s time to climb out and relish the warmer air before trotting back to the caravan, pausing only to pull a top on before exiting the wood and heading back.

Drawing (Two Glasses In)

I see you drawing. You’re sitting on a rock, on a beach looking out to sea. You don’t know I’m there, maybe you feel me in your mind but when you turn there’s just rock and the wind. I see you drawing, sketching the sea, a groyne, some rocks, a seagull, maybe a dolphin. I can’t draw, I have to write what I see. Write what you see. How would you describe what you sketch, would it match what I write? How can you express feelings in art? I can draw you in, explain the detail, you can only show the big picture; hope the viewer can see your intention. Can you make me feel the wind, smell the seaweed, the salt? Can you feel the rock you are sitting on? Is it cold, do you draw your coat tight around you? Do you feel me now holding you tight, one arm across your chest? We stare into the distance, the North Sea, the wind blowing in our faces. The moment lasts forever then it is gone, a gull cries, there’s no-one there. You sketch.

The memory is still so strong, years later I can remember the phone call, of how you told of running into the sea into those November waves and experiencing the thrill of the power of the waves and the overwhelming coldness of the North Sea for perhaps just a short minute or two before retreating to your brother’s house overlooking the seafront. And now you were talking to me, drinking wine and wearing that jumper, warming up and buzzing ecstatically with excitement. And though my heart ached for you, and I wished I was there to share it with you, I also knew you would never be mine. Your spirit was too free or perhaps you just didn’t love me enough, in the right way, to make it work.

Safe Place

You know, I think, in that moment, all it would have taken is for someone to put their arm around me and say to me

“You must be so frightened and hurting real bad”.

And at that point I think I might have broken down and cried. In all my brokenness to feel so abjectly unsafe and withdrawn over something so trivial.

And perhaps the lesson for me is that my safe place needs to be found inside me rather than attaching it to people or places that can never give me the safe place, the grounding, I need.

I can not control the world or ask it to keep me safe.

Another Night Alone

The pub in the afternoon. The Talbot in Ledbury to be exact, an odd crowd; the old retirees drinking their afternoon away arguing politics with a middle-aged newcomer. It’s just a parallel conversation though, not one is listening to the other, just passing opinions and judgements. A younger couple, not a couple but meeting up to catch up and celebrate some new job promotion. Eager and excited, not drinking in the afternoon but a handy meet up point. The landlord, loud and brash, friendly but closed. Reminds me of my dad, you’ll never get anything real from him, not unless he wants to let you in. Which he won’t, he’s too cautious and too wily for that. I’m on my second beer, a slight, small beer buzz has started and I’m in the danger zone. Nearly at the end of the second daytime beer and caution goes to the wind. Why not have another? Dinner can wait. Go on, have one more. I’m in the danger zone.

Time to sup up and head home, there’s packing to be done for the weekend away and lino printing to be done, my new art and craft masterpiece to finish off. And I feel alive and amazing and at once lonely and afraid. Another night alone.

New Street Station

Looking to kill some time I weighed up the options of liquid in then liquid out or liquid out then liquid in. The most pressing decision of my day so far. Liquid out won the day and I headed for the toilets. As I approached I saw they had wheeled medical screens up outside like something out of a Carry On film. I was half expecting Barbara Windsor to throw her bra over the top and cackle, but instead all I saw was a foot. A man’s trainer, size 10 or 11 maybe, wasn’t quite blocked by the screen. A man. A man down. Outside the toilets, in the Orange Zone of New Street Station. I paused in thought. Someone’s father, someone’s brother, someone’s son. Lying on the floor, behind a screen, outside the toilets in New Street Station. And I took a moment of silent reflection and a small prayer to who knows who. The tannoy blared loudly. Overhead powerline problems in the Coventry area, delays and replacement bus services, the alternative rail route via Moor Street Station were not going to be an inconvenience here today for this unknown man. And I pray that he is ok.

My Husband

A quick-fire piece of writing for the Visual Verse monthly prompt:

Visual Verse.jpg

The sky is mottled with a dusky brume of smoke hanging guiltily over the church, clinging to the shingles trying to disguise itself and the deed it has done. The pitchfork. The blood. The screaming. He used the pitchfork to prod and to push and to skewer them onto the flames. Doing great works for the glory of God. He has no doubt what he did was right. His face taught, his mouth set, his lips tight. ‘This is what we have to do to protect our children,’ he shouted as he rallied the other faithful around the pyre that morning. She, however, has doubt now. Doubt in this man who could do these things, that could drive others to do those things. This man, her husband. The vacancy behind her eyes doesn’t leave, each new week, each new pyre, each new death haunts her. Although nothing would ever compare to the hurt of those three sharp pitchfork tangs as in one final push he hefted her onto the pyre that late summer morning.

My Husband



As I walk I am seized by the urge to start collecting sticks to create a new bundle, the wind is howling around my ears and I stand in the clouds with no hope of seeing the sun this Winter Equinox morning. Down a slope off the path I can see my first stick, an arm stretch up in a tree and I stop myself – the slope looks steep and slippy, I might lose my footing, the old blocks rise up in my mind. I turn to go, but I hesitate again, the penny drops and the insight comes. I see my hesitation for what it is – another’s voice from another time, keeping me safe. I don’t need that voice anymore and descend carefully down to the tree and reach up into its dead branches and claim the first stick for my bundle. ‘Risk aversion’ I whisper silently in my head and climb back up to the path.

In a time not now and in a place not here I was sitting in a stone circle with a small bundle on my lap. It was night and it was dark, the dreamtime, a time of celebration and reflection for us, our group. I had been to the circle before, a different time, not so long ago. To join with others to celebrate the life of a man who had passed, a man I did not know, had not known. Others had, a great many others and they had celebrated his life here and they had celebrated his life later at his funeral. And now I was walking in his footsteps in an attempt to seek to know the man I had not known through his land and his Journey. I knelt forward in the darkness and encouraged a flame into a fire, layering kindling and wood into a billowing cloud of woodsmoke in the cold night air.

As I write this, sitting atop an ancient mound overlooking what were perhaps the lands of the Dubunni and the Ordovices, a crow walks purposefully into my vision and turns away from me to my right. He digs into the damp earth with his black beak, standing against the grey rain wreaked sky and I pause to remember another tale of a raven who came to visit upon another man and I wonder what this crow brings me, of what the harbinger is showing me. I shoot off a few pictures and he wanders back over the ridge away from me and disappears. I gather together my new bundle and…

Back in the stone circle I gaze into the flames, seated on a small piece of wood, cross legged on the ground, almost at one with the damp earth. Over the fire I can see the circle of stones and further still the buildings, the places where my brothers and sisters dreamt and celebrated and were at one with each other and the world. The Mission had shook me to the core and I was feeling fractured, distant and broken. As the flames crackled and flickered casting light and shadows around me, every once in awhile I caught a glimpse of something beyond the stones. Dark movements outside the circle, outside the reach of the firelight. Dark wolves waiting in the dark night.

A wise man had advised it was not safe to sleep in the stone circle and I could feel the truth of this at this dreamtime, an anxious feeling gripped me and I retreated away from the warming fire that was calling out to the night sky like a flickering beacon. I retired to my dreaming space on the grassy bank amongst the small trees and saplings which will one day grow and hide this circle in a wooded clearing, and here I watched the fire from afar and the wolves were no more.

Time passed and footsteps approached the circle and the fire, a flickering head torch danced through the night and a silhouette crouched down before the flames. At once I felt as if I had become an invisible, unwanted presence, an interloper, in a story unfolding before me. Pulling myself to my feet I approached the fire from the outer darkness and made my presence known. I was indeed unwelcome, I had intruded upon what was to be a solemn sacred solitary ceremony. Moving from my dreaming space had been the right path to take, however now I had lost both the dreamspace dreamtime and the fire. Another fire lay across the field from the circle and in trepidation I headed out into the world to rejoin my brothers and sisters in their celebrations and ceremony.

It was there she found me. Later. She came looking for me, had reconsidered. Said the sacred feminine wanted to thank the masculine that had created fire and to share the ceremony and would I do her the honour? Returning to the stone circle, we both sat facing the fire, I facing East, she facing North and the ceremony was enacted and we stared for a long time into the flames.

“You remind me of my partner, your story that is, not you yourself”, it was something like that she said. I don’t remember exactly what but I do remember how I felt. It was only a few short weeks ago that I had felt myself  laying lost at the bottom of deep dark pit, staring up at the ceiling, paralysed with an intense loss and weariness. Two people, each one different and each one trying to make their way in the world and falling over so many times. I remembered a story I liked to tell and that had recently been told back to me.As the flames died and we shared our silence I felt this urge to hand on that story I had once told and had once heard and so I asked if I might tell the story of Tam Lynn –

“There was once a young woman in a place far away a long time ago. Every day she would ride her horse across the fields along the edges of the wild wood but never entered that dark space. One day a wolf surprised and frightened her horse causing it to bolt for the safety of the trees and although she hung on with grim determination as the horse crashed into the forest and turned this way and that riding hard under low trees and branches and jumping over gullies and streams there came a point where she lost grip and fell to the floor. Some time later she awoke and was looking up into the eyes of a handsome young man who had calmed her horse and watched over her until she was awake. Grateful for his kindness and falling under the spell of his beauty they talked for hours until it had become dark. With the wolves abroad it was safer that she stay with him in the forest until morning came by which time she was so taken by love she wouldn’t leave. The young man reminded her of her family and life outside the forest and explained he could never leave the forest. He was a prisoner and slave of the faery queen and doomed to serve her from the moment he was captured seven years ago until…. tonight…. when she would sacrifice him and find another to serve her.

There was only one plan that would save him, but it was dangerous and carried much risk, she agreed to do everything in her power to save him even risking her own life. He told her there would be a procession tonight with him at the lead, many faery warriors and the queen following behind. He would be bound and placed on a white stallion and the procession would follow him on horseback to the place of sacrifice. The route they would take would take them past a place where she could hide herself in the hedgerow overlooking the path and, if she time it right, she could leap out, catch hold of him and hold him tight and together they would fall to the ground. This is where the plan would become dangerous as the faery queen would use her mysterious magic to make him appear to be things that he was not in order to frighten her into letting him go. Whilst she held him tight she could not intervene  – she could not cross from the faery realm into the human realm so she would try to trick her into letting go by turning him into her deepest fears – into a wild animal, perhaps a lion or a wolf, and if that didn’t work she would do worse, perhaps a fire-breathing dragon with sharp claws and teeth or perhaps an image of her father when she hated him most, or her brother when she hated him most or her mother when she hated her most. She had to hold on at all costs as if she let go the faery queen would reclaim him for the sacrifice and she would never see him again.

And so she agreed to this dangerous task to save her one true love from the faery queen and the fate which awaited him and that night she found a good position in the hedge on the high banks overlooking the path which the faery procession would take that night. As darkness fell, it was as he said it would be – a horseback procession lit by flaming torches emerged from the darkness and gloom of the forest. She could see her love bound with ropes and vines and mounted on the lead horse which walked purposefully along the path followed by faery warriors and the faery queen in all her faery woodland finery. Before too long the procession was upon her just below her hiding place and she summoned all of her courage and all of her love and leapt out of the hedge and flung herself off the high bank and arms open wide she grabbed for and clung onto her man. The force of her landing threw them both off the horse and onto the ground, but she remembered his words and clung tightly to him ignoring the pain and shock from the heavy landing. at first the procession was stunned and for a moment nothing happened then from the very depths of hell came a scream from the faery queen. The faery warriors quickly formed a circle around our two lovers and stood guard as none could intervene physically from the faery world into the human. Again, as foretold by our enslaved young man, the faery queen wove her magic. before the eyes of our young heroine, her love turned into a huge slavering wolf with sharp claws and sharp teeth which howled and snapped and scratched at her, but she held on tight to the wolf and it did her no harm. At once the wolf changed into a huge lion with a head the size of a well and a body as large as a cart and feet as large as doors and claws as sharp as razors. It roared the loudest lion roar you could imagine and looked as if it might eat her with one bite of its massive teeth. But she held on through her fears and the lion changed into a fire-breathing dragon, larger still than the lion with smoke rising from its nostrils and a long scaly tail. A blast of scorching fire came from its mouth and she felt she might be burnt to a horrifying death but she remember the words of her love and held on to him with all her heart. And then the dragon changed and before her was her father, in rage, at one of those things she might have done wrong when she was small and when she feared and hated him the most, yet she held on and her father changed into her mother as she remember her when she was growing up, in her rage at some transgression she had made and she was small and frightened and shamed, yet she held on still, tighter than before and her mother changed into her brother in those moments she hated him for teasing and bullying her and yet she held on still and then there was a scream of rage and her brother changed into the faery queen screaming in her face and threatening to scratch her eyes out and pull out her hair and to cut off her nose and to kill her and all her family. Yet she held on tight and with a final scream the faery queen and her band of warriors disappeared. Daylight returned to the forest and the birds and animals which had been silent began to sing and call out and move once more. And she looked into the eyes of her love and he looked back into hers and they rejoiced.”

With that we thanked each other for the time we had shared and I left her there with the smouldering remains of her bundle and retreated once more to the main fire and circle and rested there.