Sunday, September 07, 2008


Riding the nightmare

What Gordon Brown was doing in my dream I do not know – and much as I would like to, I can’t remember the conclusion of the dreaded thing: At some stage he was eating a commercially produced cup cake (it had something to do with proving his ‘Britishness’) and, after deftly separating out the sponge and the neatly parcelled chocolate filling (which he passed over to me), he ate it … then?

All very strange and disturbed: The ubiquitous thumping base from a parking car suddenly stopped only to be followed by the raised high pitch voice of one of the occupants as she struggles to find her pass key to the apartment block shattering the visions; and I surface on a fast rising swell of consciousness.

You don’t always notice the physicality of such an awakening – but my head was still swimming as I registered the slight chill – it must have been two or three in the morning to have cooled that much. Yesterday was hot. It wasn’t the hottest it has been this year but the heat has become tiresome and the season should have shifted down a gear by now.

There are too many disturbances in the night – you have to sleep with the window open or the bedding is soaked, the pillow needs a day of sunbathing to dry out and the sweat pouring from you dehydrates - you wake several times with a dry mouth and the nascent ache of a forming migraine.

Better to face the buzz of invading insects and the unnecessary sirens of police and ambulance speeding along essentially empty roads. And the obligatory drunks and dogs … last night there was a soul touching half hour of the sort of howling which can only accompany serious injury or the loss of something one loves … a howling and baying accompanied not by the barks of other canines but by their whimpering and silence.

Unusually I soon slipped back into unconsciousness leaving the prescience of a night full of its own untold stories and fantasies.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Insomnia and irritation

Whether it is indigestion, genuine illness, the recent inclemency of the weather disturbing my sleep patterns or just an indolent couple of days I find myself up early and distinctly irritated.

I can’t sleep.

The internet is not working again … so much for ‘Orange’ and wireless connections!

Minor annoyances (like not being fully paid) are looping around in my brain.

There are things I need to do: I have an important letter to write… but I am not able to concentrate.

Music isn’t working, which is a sure sign something is wrong.

A cup of tea made, a couple of games of solitaire on the computer completed and still no internet …

Focusing on all this by writing isn’t really going to help – it may even irritate the situation, but what is there to do? It’s been a long time since I was able to read my way out … and there is nothing ‘on the go’ which vaguely interests me anyway.

I keep returning to the wet puppy …

This afternoon, (or rather, yesterday afternoon – we are well into the early hours of the night) as I walked to the Bega, there was a young puppy – one of the wild ones. Separated from whatever family it had, bouncing after the legs of any passing human. It looked healthy – and for a brief moment I even contemplated … – but, well, the chill of mortality riddled to the surface and I passed by hoping it didn’t pick me out.

The poor creature is facing, in the near future, certain death under the wheels of a car. At least it’ll be swift, and hopefully not too painful.

About forty minutes latter I saw it again – with far less bounce and an almost puzzled look on its face. I was a little shocked. It was soaking wet and, still chasing legs, seemed far less sure if not a little dizzy.

As I sat by the river I’d seen it with a couple of boys – they initially played with it but then got bored. I saw them walking off – or trying to. The pup, as is the nature of pups, followed and wanted to continue playing. It’d learn, I thought – they’ll end up throwing stones at it – I’d holed they would not be too big.

When I saw it like this – wet and confused – I realised the boys must have thrown the dog into the river. Whether it was wanton cruelty or just playful irresponsibility, I decline to pass judgement on.

Too young, possibly too weak to shake itself, it was dripping – and had the clumped look of dark wet hair newly washed.

Again I passed hoping to get away before the anticipated as the dog followed a woman with a plastic bag of shopping towards the busy main road.

Why the inane cruelty?

Why the despair first?

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Timisoara: The People's Park

It was to have been a great enterprise – a port, far from the sea, in the centre of a continent, on the edge of a landlocked empire. Barges carrying everything vital for the newly industrialising; materials to fabricate and all the exotic goods needed to support a booming middle class and expanding toiling subclass: the rich furs and wild silks of the East brought along the Danube from the Black Sea; the blacker solid gold called coal from the German Ruhr and the iron and copper, the wood and clay needed from central Europe. All were to change from barge to train from train to barge in what was envisioned. Strangely it was not vision enough – never was it big enough, never the shallow waters of the Bega wide enough to deal with the smallest fraction of the traffic, never the spider web of rail extensive enough for anything other than a circuit of the town and a moving on. Some journeys the Orient Express passed through – but never this side of the river and not stopping.

It is hard to imagine now – with children playing in the fountain; with push chair full of sleeping baby, mother, in tacky, short lived imitation of last year’s even shorter lived fashion, on her ‘mobile’, blowing the smoke of a cheap cigarette before lifting the stuck remains of chewed roasted sunflower from her lower lip; with a well disciplined, fuzzy-at-the-edges species of heavy guard dog, on short lead and excitable yapping white poodle, whose only discipline is in carefully managed curly hair, bouncing at the end of a red box with infinite length of fishing line.

Usually ‘the man’ walks the dog in this park.

Earlier in the morning, it is the younger, fitter, t-shirted and swimming pool bronzed specimens; young men off to work, men with wives who also are off to work, with dogs liberated for a brief moment of exercise and excrement before a day locked in tiny furniture cramped apartments; a dog whose life resolves itself into fatness and the lonely longing for pack, who can, for a fleeting moment, twice a day. run again.

By mid-morning it is the more fortunate animals released from the toil of pet-hood with retired workers, ex-officials who knew a better/a worse time before now and are willing to spend twenty minutes or so telling you; retired men-of-the-house, getting ‘under the feet’, sent to walk the dog and fetch the drinking water from the well sunk to tap the thermal groundwater hundreds of metres below: The sole purpose of the park for most who visit; afraid of the council delivered domestic tap water; devolving a mystery and benefit to the frequently street-child sucked taps and workman-washing location, exposed to all weathers and all the dust and grime or the busy city around.

An ill-fitting and even iller-constructed tattoo of paths marks the routes most people follow. Benches, newly en-whitened but most missing slats and uncomfortable to sit on, line the principle walkways. On these there is the constant workman – employed by whom none knows but in blue overall and drinking from a bottle some substance which renders sleeping through the day a benefit.

These docks are well used by the watchers – a mixture of the loneliness and frailty of age or infirmity, bored with the darkness of their officially appointed then purchased living space and seeking, even if only in the ability to censure, conjunction.

At weekend or after the morning school session teenagers glue themselves together for half an hour then move off to do homework and take the necessary private lessons that guarantee what is called success in this post-empire society.

Above and immune from all the anxious, lackadaisical human activity the magnificent trees. Cloister-like supporting trunks rise to a canopy enshading the ground with a flickering luminescence. Birds and insects fly above sometimes in a dance of extinction. Blackbirds sing matins and evensong and throughout the day the constant chatter of the assembled choirs counterpoints the crude politicking and inane positioning of the people.

It was to be a temporary park, a park before the port – but the storm passed quickly over and the space, forgotten and odd in shape, remained in a dream state. It is a place of unattempted intention where the only cargo is aspiration and the dross of failed industry washes into dock.

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Friday, June 27, 2008


Grandma is dead

or what a pussy to do with ...

Cat (the)
Mat the - on -

THE Mat ?
Cat - (the)

Mat the
Cat the

A tax on sin all!

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Friday, April 18, 2008


Write a paragraph describing a simple action that you do every day ...

I lie in bed, waiting for the light to strengthen, listening to music, knowing the first thing I'll do is walk to the kitchen, open the window and feed the bird.

A plate-boundary-shift sized tremor of guilt awaits the day of failure.

Whether the bird is in control, or I am, is knife edge.

Each morning I feed the ever fattening dove - 'it' was two until recently: The suspicion is they're off to pastures new and this fine fellow is a replacement.

Resentment has been firmly suppressed, even though all through the winter I kept that scraggy pair going, hopeful of a successful nest in the tree opposite the window (they failed miserably last year - the first downpour flooding them out of house and home).

Cooing in the morning drags me from the remnants of sleep; I suppose this should be considered as debt repayment.

An empty plastic ice-cream container on the worktop - just in front of the bread bin, holds the day's allocated feed. Last thing to do at night is re-load this with seed - bought cheap, but still bought. Doves, at least these wild sort, as a breed are fairly fussy about what they'll eat.

The idea of lentils (one of my own favourites) seems anathema - and attracts the pigeons. Similarly, beaks are turned up at all variety of pulses, and anything too large.

I do slip in the bread crumbs that fall from locally baked loaves- and my late morning slice of cake scatters more crumbs, all brushed into the box. If we are lucky (both bird and I) the cake will have some walnuts on it - although very thinly scattered, which, considering the number of 'nuca' trees growing in this 'nuca' rich country is something of a miser's trick.

The Walnuts have to be chopped though - and I have caught myself sacrificing , at least fifty fifty, any large piece found perched on top of a cake.

The dove announces it's need by alighting on the dull metal windowsill - these 60s and 70s communist built blocks are anything but subtle. Its horny feet clatter.

Straight to the window, a look in - a most superior look in - then off to the neighbouring tree where it can supervise my opening of the window, scattering of breakfast, and withdrawal three paces back: Any closer and it will coo at me, in a most affronted way, 'til I go further back.

Then the open winged landing - it really is strange, the sensation of a bird wrapping it's wings and almost embracing the air, pulling in - the secret of flight ? - to itself.

Seeing the strutting peck, peck, pecking automaton it transforms into, it is hard to conceive the Icarus-like freedom it is in command of.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Early morning, Timisoara

The slightest layer of dust – more a regret than an accusation, more sensed in the throat, than seen

Two Chinese porcelains – small and portable, memories of wealth and a very minor bank-role against a desperate future.

A half consumed candle - antiqued and aromatic.

A stool – anachronistic in colour, shape and style – carried in for a forgotten use; never returned. Two irritating buttons and a re-stitched side split straining for its liberty.

A paper sundial – transported explanation and relic of madder days of enthusiasm. Soiled with the dirt of another place, faded through use and extreme in its accuracy.

Patterned shadows as the early spring sun pushes through the lace curtains ‘tattooing’ the wall with prison pin-pricks – an etiolated band of bondage to time, and the endless repartitions of the diurnal and seasonal.

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Writing again

Write what you know:

I automatically twist this to, “Know what you write.”

do the words mean what you think they mean?

and what sort of knowledge do they reveal?

Sometimes I wonder just what it is that people think they are writing – and how much of what they write is a veiled attempt to escape from the reality of the real they know to a fantasy.

Is writing what you know a deepening experience or is it just a futile attempt at expansion and aggrandisement?

Too often nuggets of value – real insights and experiences with genuinely wide implications - are submerged in the froth of language – or are sliced thinly remaining undetected.

The old problem of knowing yourself: being self-aware – in your perceptions as well as your assessments – haunts the advice.

Writing becomes an introvert’s journey – The man becomes the subject of the man (an existential dilemma – impossible to escape the self).

(I am following an online OU course - this is the first fruits)

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Saturday, March 08, 2008


Yet more Reviews

On: Schubert - String Quartets, Vol. 2

The Kodaly Quartet have built a well deserved reputation as performers of 'classical' quartet music - their award winning Haydn series is about as good as it gets.

They bring that experience and insight into these quartets.

Schubert is a lot less 'Romantic' than many performers try to make him - and the restraint and elegance of these pieces is nicely brought out in these recordings.

This is more refined than raging - and all the better for it.

Great music, great performance.

On: Five Bridges: Live at Fairfield Hall Croydon 17/10/1969

Teenage Dreamings -

And nothing wrong with that!

You need to belong to a certain generation I suspect to get a great deal of pleasure from this - but, as I DO belong to that generation, I was not disappointed.
This always was experimental music and a consequence of that is mixed success. What still stands the test of time is the 'second side' of the album - the reworking of classical tracks to include the bass, drums and keyboard - something that gave me a nodding head and bright smile back in my youth - and which had a similar result today.
The added material was not essential - although America is a bonus.
Of its time, yes, and for people of its time who are still not quite moribund.

On: In the Court of the Crimson King

Forget the Justification -
Just buy it and get that head banging!

4th and 5th Form parties (not discos yet) would not have been the same without 'Hall of the Crimson King': And what respectable bedroom would not have THAT cover thrown casually in view?

Yes the music has help up against time - and the voice still cuts through to even today's youngsters (tried it out on a local victim - he went and downloaded the album straight away - didn't get the cover though).

And I love the packet - mini reproduction LP cover!

And finally -

On: Darkness into the Light

All the 4.s

The least you can say about this recording is it is adventurous - and the best that there are moments of brilliance and moments of sublime beauty.

Turn up the volume, turn off the lights, get a few candles burning and you'll understand what I mean.

We are at a crossroads - where East meets West; where the Past crosses over to the Future; where monophonic chant sits side by side with polyphony; and where the strings of one quartet and the voices of another harmonise.

That is one very heady mix - and if it doesn't always quite make it (and it doesn't) much more frequently it does.

The performance of the individual tracks is near perfect - the Tavener tracks breathtaking. If I had to single out one it would be `Come and do Your will to me' - a ravishing experience.

Tavener (for anyone new to his music) is both the `beginning and the end' - he is a `contemporary' but takes inspiration from his `Orthodox' Christianity, which makes a piece like `The Bridegroom' sound remarkably fresh whilst at the same time never loosing the Byzantine strokes of the East.

The overall experience of contrasting, contrasting, contrasting is both sensual and intellectual.

Well worth the money.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007


More Music Reviews

Medieval Minimalism:

It is almost impossible for us at this end of the second millennium to grasp the tremendous outpouring of creative talent that resulted in the buildings, art, poetry, and music of the beginning of the same millennium - but The Hilliard Ensemble do try to make it a little easier for us.

Perotin, called `Perotinus the Great' by one visiting Englishman of the time, is a perfect starting point for a journey back into that lost world - and into the acoustic pleasures of this fine music.

Based in plainchant - the singing of the Latin text in a flowing, one note at a time melody - Perotin's music frequently takes a small section of the text and adds extra notes - sometimes from two voices, sometimes from four.

In its simplest form, one note is like the `drone' of the bagpipe - held for a long time - and the other bounces along on top of it. (I'm reminded when I listen to this type of tune of a deep, slow, cool river flowing majestically along, whilst a red, armour-plated dragonfly zooms and bounces above it, hunting.)

There is a wonderful sense of fun in this - it is easy to imagine a group of choristers playing with the sound and trying to co-ordinate their `bounces' - a bit like putting together a sequence of passes on the football field.

Another aspect of Perotin, as shown in his Beata viscera (track 8), is a deep felt reverence for all things religious, especially the Virgin Mary. Irritatingly, the booklet doesn't provide any translations so it is easy to miss the absolute beauty of the text - but not the music. In a free flowing wave of sound, the words of the poem are hoisted to heaven - like watching a sky lark.

What the Hilliard Ensemble bring to all this is a strength, a certainty of sound and a purity of line that originates as much in their work on contemporary music as it does on older traditions. And this is what makes this CD stand out - it is as much about today as it is about 900 years ago.

As the booklet points out, Perotin has influenced the likes of Steve Reich.

If you like minimalism, you'll love this - Perotin, takes a simple idea and fills a vast space - in his case, Notre-Dame Cathedral.

Musical Splendour

Notre-Dame was at the heart of the Western 12th century cultural explosion - and this CD attempts to capture something of that dynamic, Gothic-cathedral-building splendour.

Starting with a simple, solo-voiced (monophonic), quite beautiful hymn to the Blessed Flesh of the Virgin Mary the programme moves through increasingly complicated, two then four part arrangements of music that would have been performed in Paris as the first, `truly monumental' cathedral was raised above its foundations.

And just as the building has its foundations - so too with the music: Weaving in and out of the performances is the dignified simplicity of plainchant - the basis from which first Leonin then Perotin departed.

The parallel between the increasing power and complication of the building and the developing richness of the music is deliberate - as Antony Pitts (founder of TONUS PEREGRINUS) makes clear in his excellent booklet notes.

More than anything else, however, this CD deserves to be listened to because of the wonderfully clear performance.

Not everyone will appreciate the use of women's voices for the high parts - but for me they give a strength which more than compensates for any niggles over authenticity.

This is not the only way to approach this wonderful music - but the alternatives will have to be very, very good to supplant this recording as my first choice as an introduction to the world of Gothic Polyphony.


From the first soul stroking notes of 'O vis aternitatis' there is no doubting the intensity of feeling to be found in both the music and performance.

Recorded over a decade ago, this Sequentia c.d. remains not only the best introduction to the music of Hidegard von Bingen available, but also amongst the finest recordings of mediaeval church music ever made.

All the voices are female and maintain an individual clarity which is distinguishable even when singing in chorus - and in a marvellously atmospheric church acoustic. The voices are sometimes supported by instruments giving a vaguely resonant effect as if the crystal spheres themselves were ringing.

If this sounds as though there is a touch of the `Mystic-Meg' about all this - there is: Hildegard was attempting to capture in sound the ecstatic experience of, in the final words of the recording, `the embraces of the divine mysteries'.

Sequentia have not attempted to reproduce an historically accurate performance: As Ken Clark pointed out in the BBC Series, Civilisation, we `moderns' can never think or feel or believe as the medieval mind did. Instead, we get an intelligent and very accessible programme of pieces which allow us a glimpse into the mind of a woman attempting to reach beyond the stars to `the power of eternity'.

All on Amazon UK

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