Friday, 30 October 2009

This Is The Last Time

For anyone looking for this week’s wordzzle click HERE. The below is a fact-based piece of writing. Please watch the first video first.

Friday morning. Today.

It’s 5:30am and I’m wide awake, my body not having adjusted to the clocks going back on Sunday for the winter.

Furry is sitting in the gap between my body and my arm, his head resting on my bare skin. He offers a confused purr as I give up any attempt at sleep and get up.

Once in the bathroom I open the window and check the sky – perfectly clear. I get dressed and pack a towel and a change of T-shirt.

At ten past six I head out of the door with a slight headache from not having slept properly and Peter Davidson’s last scene as Dr Who plying for space in my brain. The Dr Who scene has been playing in my head for some days now. I think about Davidson’s last words as the Doctor “Might regenerate…I don’t know…feels different this time” and Colin Baker’s infamous “Change my dear, and it seems not a moment too soon”

When they first showed it I was mostly thinking what a great view Davidson had when he was performing that scene – right up and into the mountains that were Nicola Bryant’s cleavage, but today I am thinking about the wider meaning of those words.

Feels different this time.

I walk down the street and past the bus stop. It’s lighter this morning than it has been for some weeks, the change of the clock pushing back the darkness for just a while. Ever since the dark mornings have arrived I’ve been travelling on busses, feeling the familiar claustrophobia of public transport enshroud me like a tomb as I’ve shuffled from place to place, squeezing myself in to allow for other passengers, running from stop to stop to make that connection.

Today is different, today is not the same. Today I make the action (and points for anyone who recognises the lyric)

I walk under the main road, taking the subway and past the small factories. I’m trying hard to think about the fact that this is my last day at work, that after this my future lies uncertain before me, that everybody’s changing and I don’t feel the same…
Over the train bridge taking the steps one at a time and despite all my attempts to think about something else the thought that comes into my brain is Jimmy Osmond.

Yeah, that’s right – 6:30am on a Friday morning on the dawn of the last day I will ever take this route for this purpose and I’m thinking about Jimmy Osmond on Celebrity Come Dine With Me. For those of you who don’t know it CDWM is a program where people spend a week hosting dinner parties for strangers and they get marked on how well they do – the celebrity version of this gives the money to charity.

On the episode with Jimmy Osmond there was some size zero super model, a pop starlet and Nicky Clarke (hairdresser to the stars). Each and every one of them was “fashionably late” with Clarke arriving 1 ½ hours after he was due – causing the food to be ruined.

Osmond, being a Mormon and a generally all-round-nice-guy smiled it off and forgave him.

Personally – if it had been me – I’d have given him a mouthful of abuse, asked him who the hell did he think he was trying to score style points off me, ruining all my hard effort and finished by asking if he was too fecking busy to text me and let me know before slamming the door in his face.

As I walk down past the park where the circus comes and pitches up I realise that I’ve been taking it a bit too slowly and will have to speed up if I am to arrive in time to shower. I pick up the pace as I pass the supermarket. There was a factory here once, and when it went a lot of people thought that this is the end, my only friend, the end…but of course the world continued to turn and new opportunities came along and replaced the old.

I think about this as, covered in sweat, I pop into an early opening shop and buy a drink. I’ve been walking an hour now and, at just after 7am, it is light. The sun has risen as far as it is likely to and a new day has begun.

As I start up the Big Long Hill I think about the people I will never see again. The security guards who have to put up with a lot of shit for very little reward, the characters in the call centre who made me smile and made my dead-end job that bit easier to bear. I think about the people who have already gone and all the promises to keep in touch that never come to fruition. It’s sad, but perhaps inevitable and I know that I will always carry a bit of them with me in my heart.

At 7:20am I reach the 2nd factory at the top of Big Long Hill and start the descent again. The shops are still closed and there is no sign of the life that will inhabit them in the next few hours.

Bang on time I arrive to meet Argent and collect my guitar. I sent out an email to a few of the managers that played a few weeks ago saying that we should all bring our guitars the last day, not really expecting him to say yes…then yesterday he asked me if I was still bringing it in.

Argent feeds her cats and we walk the rest of the way together, guitars in hand. We talk about the end of an era, we talk about set-lists, we talk about the difficult second album, forever, ever, delayed…

And then we arrive - and I’m beaten to the ground floor shower by the Incredible Cycling Lady. She’s barely tall enough to look in the eye of Gimli the Dwarf, yet she cycles 32 miles each day to work and back, come rain or snow. I used to joke that she was six foot tall when she started and simply wore her legs away – but I guess I won’t be telling that one again.

I take the lift to the second floor and enter the shower. I think about all the times I have showered here and been afraid that I have forgotten to lock it, or that I will go into routine mode and start wondering around in the nude. For a second of wild abandon I am tempted to fling the door wide open and waggle my privates in front of the security camera. Fortunately I decide against it.

This is the last time.

I started this blog to relieve the tedium of a boring job that I found myself in necessity of having to do to keep a roof over my head and by doing so I met some fantastic people and finally felt there was somewhere I could belong. It is very much my intention to continue it, but with no internet activity at home I cannot guarantee how often this will be.

The only thing I do know for sure is that on Tuesday next week I have a meeting with my new employer to see where, or if, I sit within the New Order. It is likely to be at least two weeks before I know if I even have a job, let alone where that might be.

I want to thank you all for reading and commenting, for posting such interesting thoughts and for helping me to stay sane(ish)

As they always say – finish on a song.

Take it away Eric…

Wordzzle 87

OK – before we start: thanks to everyone who’s ever read one of my creative efforts on this page – your feedback certainly knocks the “Great, great, great…sorry, what was it about?” comments I am used to into a sealed box with a radioactive isotope for boffins to talk endlessly about quantum physics until their heads explode

Anyone not interested in reading fiction blogs can find a related factual blog HERE or simply chose to read both by the efficacious means of scrolling up and down the screen

Secondly – and perhaps rather foolishly – I have just signed up to National Novel Writing Month with the intention of writing a 50,000 novel from scratch by the end of November

HOWEVER: I will only actively write this novel if one of you reading this blog is able to provide me with a title for my novel by 1st November

Titles should be sufficient to grab my attention and spark my imagination. The winning entry will get a dedication at the start of the book, an electronic copy of any resulting entry (should they wish it) and a free autographed copy should it ever come to publication

Finally – although my circumstances are changing due to the events stated in my related post “This Is The Last Time” I very much hope to continue the story of Maggie on Wordzzle day if sufficient people are interested? I’m afraid I don’t currently have regular internet connectivity, so updates may not always be exactly on time.

Yet again those of you who don’t know how a Wordzzle works the rules can be found here along with a whole host of other players to enjoy

This weeks’ selection of words were:

plumber, autograph, Florence Nightingale, a chill wind’s a blowing, watering hole, sleek, triplets, backwards, surface tension, parrot

Free estimates, French fries, carpet, Braille, silver-tongued bandit

This week I need to say a quick thank you to the people at who were mad enough to make the journey for real and to Wikipedia – the font of all pointless knowledge.

And an apology to anyone of a young or nervous disposition, or from another country, who has never heard of (UK children’s wildlife presenter & naturalist) Terry Nutkins – as soon as I saw his name on Wikipedia I knew he was the one…

Oh, and yeah: French Fries – Chips: same thing.

Week Three - Inverness – Fort William – Ballachulish (79 miles)

Exhibit 12c: Text sent from mobile no ********, Mr Bernard “Spud” Maris to ******** Margaret Mills, Monday 26th Oct 2009, 1257:

Funny thin ap’nd 2day. Bloke cum round, sed he wuz givin free estimates coz he wuz a plumber – only I knowed im, c? He woz that copper wot got Tosser sent down, bangd to rites last yr.

Wot do poliz want Mags, is it true wot they’re sayin abt u on telly? Cum ‘ome, ur 2 old 2b out like wot u r now.

Dear Spud

I got your text on Monday and tried to phone you the next day, only you weren’t there. I spoke to Tosser though about the Police and he said not to worry, he’s got it all under control. I’ll try to call you again next week, but my credit’s a bit low and the signal keeps cutting out what with all these mountains getting in the way.

Anyway, you know how much of a fan of Terry Nutkins our Norman was? Well you’ll never believe who was signin’ copies of his autobiography in Fort Augustus on Tuesday?

There he was, little old Terry, still fondling his squirrels and showing them off – the owner of the Lovat Hotel told me as how Terry used to own the Fort, and the Hotel as it happens – so I guess that explains why he was here. I can only hope that he ran the hotel better than the new bloke – but somehow the persistent smell of parrot droppings from the carpet suggests he didn’t

Anyways I knew Norman would like it if I was to get Terry’s autograph, so in I went and stood behind some twelve year old trying to control her triplets for half an hour. At my age I shouldn’t really be standing for as long, so I guess it’s no wonder as how I fell backwards into the Harry Potters. I think the security guard thought I was about to throw me knickers at Terry or something, so I had to try and explain about me dodgy hip. I don’t think he was impressed. He even threatened to get the police on me. Vandalism, he said! Imagine that, me a senile delinquent!
Anyway, Terry was lovely and gave me a few tips on places to visit, like the Caledonian Canal. Sadly I had to get back to the hotel, so as I could put me scooter on charge.

Next night I made it as far as Spean Bridge before the battery ran down on the side of the road. I must have been there for half-an-hour before this salesman came and offered me a lift to the garage. The mechanic who looked at the battery was very nice, but I could tell he were nowt but a silver-tongued bandit trying to fleece me. Never trust a man with hair so sleek you could ski down it, that’s what Norman would say.

There weren’t no hotels, not what I would call a hotel at any rate – so I managed to find a room at the local watering hole, the Florence Nightingale.
There wasn’t much on the menu and I spent a happy half an hour arguing that I just wanted a nice plate of chips and none of those fancy French Fries – if I wanted to eat French food I’d go to France, I said – but the manager just looked at me like I were mental. Eventually they brought me what he laughingly called soup, though the surface tension were such that I had to cut it with a knife before I could get me spoon in

Finally the mechanic came back with a new battery fitted and I were able to carry on to Fort William the next day and then to Ballachulish today. I can’t say I’m very impressed with the area, though the bridge is very posh. It’s taken me so long as to get here that I were very tempted to get on the train, but I don’t think Norman would ever forgive me if I gave up now.

Anyways, I’d best leave it there, as a chill wind’s a blowing through the hotel window and its going straight up me nightie.


PS: Don’t forget Mr Smith in room 12. He’s due for his rent, so feel free to kick the miserable bugger out if he don’t pay on time.


I was called to an incident at the local bookshop where a Mr Terrance Nutkins, formerly of Lovat Hotel, Fort Augustus, was signing his new book “Nutkins To See Here”. It was alleged by a member of staff that an elderly woman had deliberately destroyed a display of Braille books and attempted to thrust herself physically upon Mr Nutkins.

Upon enquiry I was informed the CCTV has been out of action for some time and that the lady had already departed the building by the time I arrived and was nowhere to be seen. The branch manager, Mr Spole, was unable to provide a description as the store was busy and Mr Nutkins was not interested in prosecuting. I have arranged to return to the shop at a quieter time to obtain a description of the suspect.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Deconstruction Of Love

Being of a nervous disposition when it comes to all this new-fangled gadgetry they keep inventing (and remember, anything invented when you are a kid is in The Natural Order Of Things, anything invented after about 35 is Against God And Must Be Stopped) i'm still slightly bemused at the idea that one can find actual footage from a concert you've been to just floating about on the interweb

Anyway - here's the tour diary from the Indigo Girls concert i went to - the first four minutes are just Emily Saliers wondering about in the style of Spinal Tap, but at 4:30 you get some rehearsal footage and an actual live song at 6:30 (ish): bear in mind the sound you're hearing is mostly from the on stage monitors.

Just a quick note ahead of Friday because there will be two posts: a wordzzle and, for those of you who prefer them, a factual story. Read either or both - but in the meantime enjoy the girls on stage

Friday, 23 October 2009

Wordzzle 86

I’m back again – and thanks to Argent for promising to post me onto Mr Linky, as i am likely to be unable to get onto the interweb at the weekend

Since so few of you clenched your fists and shook them at the sky shouting “Curse you pixie for your story of an elderly lady” Maggie returns this week for a second episode

For those of you who don’t know how a Wordzzle works the rules can be found here

Each week we are given a set of ten words for the main bout, five for the “mini” or support act and all fifteen for the mega. The words of choice are:
Incensed, sidewinder (rattlesnake), bogus, conniption (a fit of excitement), Haz-mat (hazardous material), conniving, customize, perforated, zeal, rolling off a log

And for the mini: abstemious, chlorophyll, origami, cheerleader, dung beetle

This week’s Wordzzle gave me a few problems, because there were a number of words that neither of my two characters to date would know, let alone use. However, it did give me the opportunity to bring in another story element…slightly earlier than originally planned, but hey-ho!

And apologies for the slight moment of cheating: no doubt Michael Stipe is being called and informed that someone is trying to wake someone else as we speak...

Week Two – Helmsdale to Inverness (71 miles)

From “CNN Live, Tuesday 20th October”
“Well Tony, there’s been a high degree of conniption here today in Salt Lake City as we wait for the result from the Scientists, but there’s still no news on whether the Haz-mat was disposed of safely. We’ll bring you an update as and when we know something more”

“Thank you Kelly. Good evening I’m Tony Flowers and you’re watching CNN Live. News from around the world now: British police are refusing to confirm if the elderly woman who stopped a Bank Robbery in Scotland yesterday evening is Margaret Mills, the retired Hotel Manager who went missing from her home early last week. Mrs Mills, 74, is wanted by the Police for questioning in connection with…”

Dear Spud

There was a bit of excitement on Monday when I was in Dornoch. You know what Bank’s are like on a Monday: everyone who didn’t cash in on Saturday is there with all their pennies. I had to leave my scooter outside and use the zimmer frame. Talking of which, please do thank Tosser for helping customize mine to be collapsible – it fits so much easier onto the scooter.

Anyway – I had my paying in book and my pension slip ready and this bloke comes in dressed same as a Policeman…only I could tell he was bogus, due to the fact that Police on the beat don’t usually have Velcro strips on the side of their trousers.

And he pushed his way to the front of the queue! Straight up to the cashier and handed over a piece of paper. Well I was incensed! Who the bloody hell did he think he was pushing past me as had stood there for half an hour?

So I let him have it, my zimmer frame that is. Don’t think he knew what hit him till he was crawling on the ground like a wounded dung beetle.

The manager of the bank was all over me, wanting to give me an award or some such nonsense, so of course I told him to sod off and just let me cash me pension cheque in peace.

All a load of fuss over nothing if you ask me, so I got meself out of there sharpish before the conniving git of a manager managed to work out a way of getting himself promoted thanks to me

Anyways, you don’t want to hear a lot of nonsense about some bank – so back to me journey. I caught the Merkle Ferry from Dornoch. Lovely ride that were – water as calm as if someone had applied chlorophyll to the waves. I bought meself a camera, not one of the new-fangled digital gizmos, but one of those disposable types, with a side-winder to move the film on.

Took some pictures of Foulis Castle, which were in very good condition I have to say. I was tempted to buy some of the shortbread, save meself the price of developing the film on account of the fact the picture of the Castle was on the tin, but the tin had one of those perforated edges that always cuts me fingers and besides, “I’m trying to be abstemious” as Reverend Johns would say, whatever the bloody hell abstemious means…must have swallowed a dictionary as a kid that’s all I can say – all those long words coming out of his mouth easy as rolling off a log.

Anyways, I stopped for the night in Dingwall, then again in Craigton where I got another ferry to North Kessock and finally ended up in Inverness early this morning. The hotel manager is certainly full of zeal for the place, but I have to say it’s a bit grim for my tastes.

Oh – just to finish lad – I got your text, but I couldn’t figure out how to respond. I tried the people in Tourist Information, but they were no bloody help at all


Exhibit 12b: Text sent from mobile no ********, Mr Bernard “Spud” Maris to ******** Margaret Mills, Thursday 22nd Oct 2009, 1700:


U were rite, Debs sed Yes. Can’t beleve am d8ing cheerleeder.

Tosser says wot do u want doin w ur copy of Origami Munthly – I sez leave on dining table. Hope that ok?


BTW: woz that u on telly?

Something for the weekend

Whilst i'm waiting for Raven to publish the Wordzzle so i can put mine up - please enjoy some music

Indigo Girls "Land Of Caanan" - so excited: going to see them live this sunday in the UK!!! They were fantastic last time i saw them

Bjork "I've Seen It All" - from the film Dancer In The Dark (not one for the faint hearted, or for people looking for a happy feel-good movie). I love the transitions from the real world to the songs.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Think For A Minute

So we start today’s post with a bit of good news, ne verging on exciting.

A couple of months ago I sent two short stories off for consideration in a competition and consequently heard nothing for ages.

Then, around the end of September/start of October I received news that both had been accepted for publication – for which I would receive the princely combined sum of $40 (about £25)

There were, of course, slight catches to this – firstly there will be no free author’s copy to tout around and try and sell to family and friends, secondly the only place it is being published is in Canada and on demand – so when I do buy copies (admittedly at a discount) I will have to pay a transaction fee to my bank.

So not quite vanity publishing, but close.

But then my friend Argent was telling me that back in the beginning of publishing everything was vanity published – it was the only way to get things out there.

For anyone wondering I won’t be naming the stories, nor the location of printing here because I’m still keen to keep my name and face off the internet as much as possible – but if any of you actually feel like putting up £10 for 2,000 of my well chosen words (along with the words of about 13 other people) please let me know and I will email you details.

To be honest though, I don’t expect you to buy it – I’m happy that you come and read my thoughts in the first place.

And I know that some of you prefer my factual writing to my fictional (I enjoy the process of both), but today I wanted to talk about what we each get out of blogging.

I always remember what Douglas Adams said about writing – which was that it can be very lonely and like staring at a blank piece of paper until your head bleeds.

For me I have written stories and poems and songs for as long as I can remember and became terribly down heartened at the response from family and friends. Some just wouldn’t be interested in reading them at all, whilst others would look at my 50,000 word Magnificent Octopus (as I call Magnus Oppus – or great work) and pick out all the punctuation mistakes and fail to say anything positive.

Even worse would be the “great….great…sorry, what was it about?” that some people would give to something I had spent three or four years writing. Eventually I came to doubt my ability to write: which has (and continues to have) given me a certain degree of writer’s block – sometimes its difficult to continue writing something when you know that the end result will sit in a drawer, or on a computer file, unloved and unread by all other than a few non-committal family members.

On one occasion at work I tried to explain that I had woken at 4am with a really good idea and had to get up, switch on my computer and work on it there and then or lose it forever – the response from the person involved was that I was “sad” (IE a loser).

It’s something I continue to be frustrated by – this bizarre need to be creative and to express myself in some way and yet my personal feeling that I am never able to get what I mean on paper, or that the people in my own community wont “get” it.

And so when I discovered blogging it became a chance for me to talk to people that DID understand – people like myself that woke at 4am with ideas, people who were prepared to look at the world from a different point of view.

Since I started blogging I’ve done some of the best writing I’ve ever done and I have to thank each and every one for your continued support and feedback. People always surprise me as to what they pick out of something I’ve written.

Finally – I wanted to discuss an idea for my next Toastmasters speech, which will touch on the subject of genius and where creativity comes from.

Take William Shakespeare: the bane of school children reading in bored voices across the land, but universally accepted as a genius.

Most of us can quote some of his works – like “To be or not to be – that is the question. Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of oppressors”

However – I saw a production of Hamlet recently and it said in the booklet that an early version of the play showed a much shorter version of the speech: “To be or not to be – aye, that’s the rub”

Why was this? Because back then plays were constantly written and re-written according to public response, actors might add lines that would be kept and writers would openly steal bits of plays from other writers that they liked and add them to their plays…

So if all this was happening to Shakespeare’s works – was he really a genius??

Perhaps true genius exists in the coming together of minds??


Sunday, 18 October 2009

Wordzzle 85

At some point in our journey to and from Toastmasters my friend Argent happened to ask me whatever had happened to a story idea I had some time ago – I had to admit that it had been shelved in my brain for the time being. However, we both agreed that it was worth returning to – so here is episode one – if the story gets a positive enough reaction then you can look forward to further episodes in the coming weeks.

OK – so, for those of you increasingly small number of people who don’t know how a Wordzzle works the rules can be found here
Each week we are given a set of ten words for the main bout, five for the “mini” or support act and all fifteen for the mega. The words of choice are:

early morning light, Pinocchio, mist, leaves, sandy, coffee, walking, traffic, pray, stomach
And for the mini: train, art, admirable, cotton, fluffy

My story doesn’t really have a title yet – so any suggestions will be welcome. Hope you enjoy.
Week one – John O’Groats to Helmsdale (51 miles)

Dear Spud

Well the train put me down Tuesday night and I was able to find a nice truck driver to take me the rest of the way to John O’Groats, but I can’t say much for the hotel: it smelt like someone had been keeping chickens in the room, and the less said about the coffee the better. You know that ultra expensive coffee on the news – the one where the beans pass through the stomach of a cat? Well it tasted like that.

I was a bit worried about the weather on the first day, you know what they say about Scotland – if you don’t like the weather hang around for half an hour – but the mist across the sea soon cleared and I was even able to go for a quick paddle in the water and spent an hour walking on the beach – although the walking frame did get stuck and the mobility scooter had to get a push start from the man with the sign. I didn’t like him much – he wanted to charge me £40 just to stand by a sign saying “Land’s End 600 miles”. He reminded me of Mr Johnson from the Chemist shop, you know – looks like his hair is made of cotton wool? I know you won’t like me saying that, but at my age you can’t afford to be mincing words.

Anyway, once we’d got the scooter out into the traffic it ran well enough, although I’ve noticed that the wheels skid a bit when you drive over leaves so I’ll have to watch that when I’m going down hill.

Going was really good the first day and I managed to get to Freswick by midday. Not that there was much there – just a pub called the Admirable Lord Of The Glen, where I was able to get a Bacon sandwich. The scooter does about 25 miles before it needs charging, depending on how many hills you go up, so I have to find a hotel that doesn’t mind me plugging it in – but I’m wishing that I remembered Mr Wiggles, the fluffy cushion that little Sally made for me last Christmas

Thursday was a bit better – having managed to get as far as Wick (which has a golf club that your mate Tosser would love) – but despite my best efforts my knickers are still really sandy – must have been from the walk on the beach. One particular hill I really thought I was going to have to get out and pray to make it up the hill, but somehow we made it.

Yesterday was not so good – my back was giving me gip from an uncomfortable stay in a Bed & Breakfast – they must have used corrugated iron for the mattress, that’s all I can say. So I was up with the early morning light and off, but I got rather distracted when I reached Dunbeath Castle and ended up spending half a morning walking around on the zimmer frame. Sometimes I really hate the walking frame, but it comes in handy as well – because everyone just assumes that you’re stupid when you have one, so if you play your cards right and shout about whippets from time to time you can usually get in free. The castle had a lovely display of modern art, not that I understand all that new fangled nonsense – frankly if they wanted someone to ride a bike all over a piece of canvas then I’d’ve been happy to take half what they paid Damien Hurst.
Anyway, I eventually reached Helmsdale about tea-time and found myself a nice hotel with a Jacuzzi. I think a few of the other residents resented me getting in, with all me wrinkles making me look like a whale, but I have to say it was a nice change after all that travelling.

Well Spud – I’ve got a lot of planning to do today before I set off again. The roads are very winding, so it could take me longer than I thought – especially with having to find somewhere to re-charge the mobility scooter each night. I will try to send you another post card next week. In the meantime – do yourself a favour: get a haircut and ask that Debbie out – she won’t wait for ever.


Exhibit 12a: Text sent from mobile no ********, Mr Bernard “Spud” Maris to ******** Margaret Mills, Friday 16th Oct 2009, 0845:

Where’s u? Cum bak ome – we’re watchin Pinnochio this w/end. No u like. BTW: Polize cum round, want no where u r, say u stole sumfink? Txt me back. I no u have this numbr


Monday, 12 October 2009

It’s Only Rock N Roll (But I Like It)

By the half-way point of the show I knew that acting really wasn’t my thing.

I’d got into amateur theatre the same way I get into many things – through a combination of sheer boredom and a desire to give anything a go at least once – but I think I knew fairly early on that if I was going to be on a stage then I would prefer there to be a guitar between me and the audience.

It all started when, bored of a woman at work constantly saying that she was looking for a play for four women and couldn’t find one, I wrote a play.

And OK – so it was hardly Shakespeare, but it did lead to getting involved with the Amateur theatre group that produced it (once in a field in the middle of nowhere, and once in a competition) and auditioning for a part in their Panto (1).

Although I enjoyed my stint in Panto (as the villain – always fun to play) I felt no burning desire to continue experiencing the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd (2) and it was only when our new receptionist at work found out what I was doing and asked me to audition that I became theatrically involved again.

This time around I was to play the vital role of Mr Yates in (Jane Austen’s) Mansfield Park – a character so important to plot progression that most adaptations miss him out. To be honest though I was never interested in playing the big parts – far too much pressure to get it right (and the more nights you DO get it right, the more you begin to stress that you won’t).

For anyone who has not been involved in Amateur Theatre you have to know a few things:
* IF you think actual actors are a bunch of “luvvies” (3) then amateur theatre players (in my experience) are 100 times worse
* The best roles always tend to go to the regulars
* There is usually a pretty intensive rehearsal period, which can be as often as 3-4 nights a week and a weekend rehearsal
* The “run” of the show can be anywhere from one-off to every night and matinee (afternoon) performances for two weeks

So the question I had to ask myself on night five of “Mansfield Park” was “Am I enjoying this enough to make it worth the effort?” – and the answer was “no”.

Having thus decided that my acting career was over you can imagine my surprise when, barely a few months later, I found myself in the audition hall clutching my guitar to my chest and looking down at a piece of music. The director (who might just as well have had “Panto Dame” scrawled across his head) had thrown the book down in front of me and challenged me to play a song – being unable to read music I sadly failed.

Regardless of this, and regardless of giving one of the worst auditions of all time, I landed the all-important role of Third Bloke From The Left and had the task of looking surprised, playing guitar, looking surprised, playing bass and falling over whilst looking surprised.

It was a rock n roll musical – one of those that uses popular songs to tell a story and, as second guitarist, I had two lead guitar moments: firstly the lead guitar in “The Young Ones” whilst doing The Shadows Step (4) and “Johnny B Goode”.

And of course, being a guitarist, I was determined to get my moment of glory right. And we all know that there are certain things that guitarists have to do to be proper rock gods:
* Throw guitar up in air and catch it whilst still playing – however Health & Safety concerns stopped me doing this
* Destroy guitar – this was discussed, with a “dummy” guitar rigged with pyrotechnics – however the guitarist concerned was a) concerned about destroying a perfectly good guitar and b) concerned about losing his arms in resulting explosion
* Throw plectra into crowd triumphantly (5) (drummers traditionally throw their sticks into the crowd – so I guess we can only thank the stars that piano players haven’t joined in the game)

And this is where I fell down slightly with my Rock N Roll credentials – because actually I’m quite fond of my plectra and the thought of throwing it away was uncomfortable at best, so I guess it’s just as well that I own neither a Rolls Royce or an outdoor swimming pool.

And so I took a special trip to my local music shop and specifically bought enough spare plectra to throw away at the end of my solo (sad, but true)

The play took part in two separate locations – once in the middle of a hot July at a theatre where no one had told the producers that the car park would be closed for the duration (resulting in one performance to a crowd of 10) and once about six months later – but it has to be said that my efforts at throwing my plectra away were not entirely successful.

The trick, or so they tell me, is to flick it with the wrist so that it flies out into the audience and catches the light, falling somewhere in the middle of the rapturous crowd.

First night we came to my solo and I stepped forward, crashing to my knees, putting the guitar behind my head and generally leering into the camera (despite everything the cameraman had told me about distortion on the big screen behind me), stood up and attempted to flick the plectra and watched as it fell directly at my feet. Rather shamefacedly I bent down and picked it up.

As the nights came and went my degree of success rose and fell. Some nights, buoyed by other events, I forgot entirely to prepare a spare plectra and had to forego my moment of Rock God Achievement, whilst others the offending piece of plastic managed to fly a few rows.

One particular occasion sticks out in my mind though. It was about half way through the second run (in which I only had the one solo anyway – my part in “The Young Ones” having been cut) and for once I managed to remember to have a spare plectra and to flick it at an appropriate angle for it to fly magnificently into the crowd.

Pleased with my effort I stepped back into the band and enjoyed the last few moments of the show.

Afterwards, and after the crowd had exited the building, we were allowed back on stage to collect our instruments and lock them away for the night…

…and there it was, on the front of the stage.

Someone had taken the time to pick up my plectra from where it had fallen and return it to me – inadvertently destroying my one moment of Rock stardom in an attempt to be helpful


1) Panto – or Pantomime. A traditional Christmas play – most popularly Dick Whittington, Cinderella, Babes In The Wood, Puss In Boots or Jack And The Beanstalk – in which the main character (whether male or female) is always played by a woman who falls in love with a beautiful princess/handsome prince (also a woman) – but in which the character that is usually best remembered is the “Dame” – played by a man in drag.
2) The roar of the crowd and the smell of the greasepaint – theatrical expression. Personally I think it makes more sense the other way around!
3) Luvvie – traditional way of describing an over the top actor who is very camp and tends to call everyone “love” or “darling” because they are a) extremely superficial and b) can’t be bothered to learn your name
4) Shadow Step – famous dance/walk perfected by The Shadows (Cliff Richards’s backing group): basically: Left foot forward, right foot forward and cross in front of left foot, left foot back to original place, right foot back to original place – and repeat.
5) Plectra – triangular shaped piece of plastic for strumming and picking guitar strings

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Titanic Days

I was originally going to dedicate the whole of this week to posting each day about UK singer/songwriter Kirsty MacColl – who would have been 50 on Sunday, but I decided in the end that posting every day was a lot to ask people to read/watch – and instead have chosen to post four songs spanning the entirety of her career.

Kirsty was the daughter of (folk singer and political writer) Ewan Maccoll (who wote “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and “Dirty Old Town”) and suffered from stage fright for much of her career, along with repeated lack of support from her record labels. She was married to record producer Steve Lillywhite through the 80s and early 90s and when her marriage broke down she moved to Cuba, where she discovered latin music.

During her career she worked with all the big acts of the time, including The Smiths, Simple Minds, Talking Heads and famously finalised the running order for U2’s album The Joshua Tree. She was equally known for her cover versions, which included “Days” (The Kinks) and “A New England” (Billy Bragg) and is probably best remembered for her immortal Christmas song “Fairytale Of New York” with The Pogues

When Kirsty was killed by a motorboat in 2000 England lost a truly unique talent.

Please take a few moments to watch these videos and celebrate her life.

I had the unique pleasure to meet her after a gig about four months before she died and found her to be a truly nice person.

NB: the final video is myself performing a song from her second album “Kite” – the song that has my dad eternally referring to her as “That woman who sings about Milton Keynes”


There’s A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop, Swears He’s Elvis

Fairytale Of New York

England 2, Columbia 0

Still Life

LYRIC: Fifteen Minutes (from the album “Kite”)

Seven times in seven days
I've sat and wished my life away
I know the greyness comes and goes
But the sun don't shine
And the snow don't snow

There's Suzy-Ann with her tits and curls
Where mediocrity excels
For those vicious boys and their boring girls
You know it makes me sick but it's a bozo's world

Then there's always the cash
Selling yourself for some trash
Smiling at people that you cannot stand
You're in demand
Your fifteen minutes start now

City banker looks are in
The heartless heart, the chinless chin
And you'd spill your beans for just a pint of gin
How you got so holy
And became so thin

In Sunday papers every week
The silly words you love to speak
The tacky photos and the phoney smiles
Well it's a bozo's world
And you're a bozo's child

Then there's always the cash
Selling yourself for some trash
Smiling at people that you cannot stand
You're in demand
Your fifteen minutes start now

Then there's always the fame!
Autographs now and again
People who saw you on Blankety Blank
Or in the bank
Your fifteen minutes start now

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

A Flower?

OK – so I was going to leave telling you this story until Christmas, but the truth is that after last week’s post and moment of visitation from my own personal despair cloud I am still mentally exhausted and need to write something positive.

It’s a story I heard as a kid, possibly based on Buddhist philosophy – but I’m not going to say where I heard it…who knows, maybe one or two of you out there will recognise it anyway.

So: the story goes that a long time ago there was a man who lived in a faraway land. The name of this land is unimportant, but it sounded vaguely like somewhere in Ireland and, when he later began his travels, this is where a lot of people thought he came from.

But the story begins before that, when the man was still a youth, living near the mountains in a society that he felt didn’t understand him and had nothing to offer. Every day he looked out of the window at the far horizon and wished to travel, to become a hero and perhaps to find some dignity – but with every passing day he felt the weight of his responsibilities weighing him further and further down.

Eventually he came to feel that the world he lived in was entirely grey and without hope – that nothing he ever did could ever come to anything – and inside he began to die.

Many times he thought of taking his life, just surrendering to the pain and being free, but something always held him back.

Then one day, when his depression was at its highest point ever he strode out of the world that he had always known and into the wilderness, looking to find a local hermit who was said to live in the mountains and who held the secret to eternal happiness. The man, who we will now refer to as The Traveller, put the last vestige of his hopes into finding the hermit, and set out across the bleak and barren landscape.

As he weaved higher into the mountains the ground became ever more barren and grey and The Traveller was exposed to the elements, becoming weak and hungry. For many days he strode through the desolation, feet tramping through muddy tracks until he could barely move his feet.

Finally, just when he was on the verge of total collapse he came upon the hermit, who was sat outside of a simple wooden hut, eyes closed and legs crossed in the lotus position. The Traveller sat at his feet and poured out his story of isolation and abandonment, letting the poison flow freely for many hours until he felt he could speak no more.

The entire time The Traveller was speaking the Hermit just sat and waited, never speaking, never opening his eyes: barely even moving. It was only when the last of The Travellers words had trickled to a halt that he opened his eyes and acknowledged the presence of his visitor.

Without a word the Hermit opened his hands and gestured to a small daisy that lay on the grass between them, almost crushed by their feet.

Just for a moment The Traveller saw the flower through the eyes of the old man, saw it as a thing of unique beauty. Its petals were bright yellow against the green of the stalk, its head standing tall and proud. It was as if someone had distilled everything that made a flower and poured it into this single daisy.

And then he looked around what he had taken to be a barren landscape and saw that the hills were full of daisies.

He saw that the grass was green, the sky was blue and the sun was bright and warm on his skin. What he had taken to be a barren and desolate land had all the time been beautiful, hidden from him only by the barriers he had put in place.

Take what you want from this story – but always try to remember that even in your darkest hour there is always beauty to be found somewhere.

You just have to want to see it.