So there I am driving from St Albans to Harpenden on a Sunday afternoon, just an ordinary day. I’m thinking about the folks who are going to be different or gone on the other side. Last week I heard that this fella I knew had died of cancer. I booked his band a few times – I don’t know how old he was, but younger than me for sure. This morning I got the news that a friend – another musician – was sinking into a disturbingly degenerative illness. There are other stories – I won’t relay them all – that have just set me thinking about how cruel these last two years have been for those who’s lives are limited by time.
I’m listening to Johnnie Walker on Radio 2 and he’s talking up the next song, but I’m lost in these maudlin thoughts, this melancholy fuzz – and then it drops. Stairway to Heaven, the full eight-minute original album take and I’m gone. Driving through and parking up in Rothamsted car park I’m in tears, just overwhelmed by the moment – this realisation that for so many there will be no ‘new normal’. When your future lies in single figures then two years lost is such a major thing. It’s just all too much to bear. I sit there, a few hundred yards from where I grew up and all these ghosts come flooding through – lives unlived and stolen time.
Following my covid bout I have an ongoing sense of fatigue (along with an occasional cough) – I lie there each morning hitting the snooze button on repeat, unable to muster the energy to rise. I’m sure this will dissipate in time but for now I am somewhat broken and susceptible to the dark.
I worry too much – or maybe not enough – of this crazy sci-fi reality in which we find ourselves. A revolution is required and yet it seems so distant and lost beyond the fog of unbearable distractions.
Aged 17. Mick and I went over to Knebworth and sneaked in, the night before Led Zeppelin were due to play. It was raining hard, so we sheltered beneath a lorry where we smoked and drank until we managed to pass out. In the morning we realised that we’d been lighting up either side of a puddle of leaked petrol – we laughed and rolled out into the fuzzy morning dew – just crazy kids, high on life.
I went to make a sandwich at lunchtime, opened the breadbin and stared at it for a while. I knew there had been at least half a bloomer left the previous day, but it was inexplicably absent now. I called out and asked Justine ‘have you seen the bread?’
‘yes’ – she responded, ‘you put it in the fridge, I did wonder why’.
I overheard two conversations while I was out town today on Blue Monday. The first, near the soft drinks section of M&S went something like;
‘So, you from Spain?’
‘No – Greece’
‘Ah, what’s it like over there then?’
‘OK, not too bad’
‘I mean are people buying in to the lies? Are they wearing the stupid masks and all that shit?’
The Greek man looked a bit flummoxed – didn’t really know how to respond. It doesn’t make me angry or anything really. It’s there and I kinda get how people have fallen into that stuff, it’s just one of those things – a little sad is all.
The second conversation was between an elegant lady, I guess early 70’s and her friend (maybe daughter). She was explaining how fast they had to turn things around with Pan’s People. This made me smile – sweet to know that there are still members of Pan’s People out there, being grandmothers and wandering around Cathedrals. I wondered if they got to keep any of the outfits from week to week – I didn’t ask.
Went to see Porridge Radio at The Horn last night – cathartic, beautiful, inspiring – much needed! We have a few gigs in the diary for the forthcoming months – Hertford, St Albans, Hitchin, Margate – looking forward to getting back as last year was quite bereft of performance opportunities. I’ve noticed that I’m getting adverts from Funeral Directors appearing on my Facebook feed with some regularity!
So, there it was – my Birthday weekend – the dawn of my seventh decade. Due to the current pandemic climate, we decided against any extended gatherings, but it was a sweet affair anyways. Saturday night was at Pizza Express with Justine, Emelia & Jack, very nice, and then at two minutes past midnight I got a call from my dear friend Clive Product to remind me that the day was upon me. It was great to chat with Clive, and he’d posted up a video of a song we co-wrote many moons ago – lovely.
On the Sunday we went into London for a bit of a decadent time, kicking off with pink champagne at St Pancras. From there we headed to Shaftsbury Avenue for the Museum of Youth Culture Pop-Up Exhibition and giggles in the photo booth. Lots of wonderful snapshots there of teens captured in their tribal exuberance – punks, mods, ravers and goths, hopeful and high on youth itself. Then it was on to Fopp and a cool new comic shop that Emelia had recommended called Gosh (vintage Vampirella comic secured). We wandered through Chinatown as Justine needed to pick up some fortune cookies and then jumped a cab over to Brick Lane for a gorgeous meal.
Afterwards we meandered through Spittlefields Market before hopping another cab over to The Lamb on Holloway Road where there was a sweet traditional Irish folk session going on. While Justine was out in the smoking yard, a fella at the next table leaned over and asked, ‘so you an Arsenal fan then?’, ‘no’- I replied. He looked slightly shocked and responded, ‘So who do you support then?’, ‘St Albans City’ said I…long pause before he came back ‘what’s that then?!?’. I did try to explain, and I think he kind of understood in the end. Back at home my Birthday ended watching Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – all round, a fine day!
I get the gift shop. It’s like when you visit a museum or gallery and you feel at one with the world, like you’re winning, and things kind of make sense, well you want to capture that moment. You want to bottle and preserve and return to taste that magic, so you pick up a postcard, a tea towel or a celebratory mug. In a way that all that art is – these poems and photos – just little items in the gift shop of life, postcards from the road.
Anyway, I wrote a poem earlier this month;
Or so they say
The average span
From birth to grave
At 720 in
I sit and ponder
Where I’ve bin
What’s been learned
And what’s been not
The turning of
Of this third age
Perhaps the only thing
Is not to really
Give a fuck
For none of us
Can quite be sure
If there’s another
Month in store
Be kind be patient
Let go of pain
That’s gone before
And don’t rely
On what’s to come
But find the moment
And change the fate
Who will emerge
To live 1000 more
We try to do the right thing but we worry that maybe we got it wrong. It can play on our minds for days or weeks – the crazy little things that emerge and require a thoughtful response. We like to perceive ourselves as trees – strong, wise, ancient and firmly rooted – but in truth we are not even branches or twigs or leaves. We are a raindrop perched momentarily on the leaf of a tree within the hugest of forests – within a second, we may be gone.
January is almost done- perhaps there will be snow in February.