Sarah has gone away, sea kayaking this time, and I’m alone again. Not lonely though. I find I rarely get lonely. Which is just as well as I find myself alone a lot.
Usually I’m alone here in this peaceful house. This house where I’ve lived for twenty six years, the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere. A typical Liverpool three bedroomed terraced house that I’m appreciating so much while there’s only me here to keep it company. Bay windows top and bottom at the front, no carpets, sparsely furnished, gently coloured and a small yard at the back leading on to the entry, alleygated in recent years.
Sarah moved into the house a couple of years after me, so I never think of it as mine and have few memories left now of the brief time I lived here on my own. Though I do have the feeling that I was lonely here then but for the twice weekly stays of my young daughter Clare. Memories when Clare wasn’t here of cold evenings, with nothing much to do when my dishes were washed up after tea.
Long ago, it seems now, I was entranced by a Paul Simon song called ‘Proof.’ It’s 1990 and I listen to his ‘Rhythm of the Saints’ album over and over again on my brand new first CD player, particularly to hear this song about ageing:
“It’s true, the tools of love wear down
A mind wanders
It seems mindless, but it does
Sometimes I see your face
As if through reading glasses
And your smile, it seems softer than it was”
I’m in the middle of being thirty something at the time so this song, curiously beguiling as it is, feels like a message from a distant country which I can’t yet imagine visiting.
Nowadays I see everything I read and write through reading glasses.My previous blog post on here was a reflection on living as if I have a year left to go. Hoping I have many more but, at 63, knowing it would be a misguided conceit to carry on calling myself middle aged. In that post I wrote that all posts from now on would have to pass the test of ‘Would I bother writing this if I thought I had year to live?’ Since then I’ve wondered ‘Well what exactly am I going to write about?’
I know there’s going to be a lot more Liverpool than there’s been on here lately. Not because it’s necessarily any more special than where you live but because it’s my home, where I’ve chosen to live the whole of my life. There’ll also be more about people I know or meet who are doing good things that I want more people to know about, because I like helping out people I judge to be making their corner of the world into a kinder place.
Almost four years ago I began writing a sequence of blog posts on here about living as if I only had a year to go. My thinking being that one day this day will certainly arrive for all of us, but we’ll rarely know it when that day comes. So I decided to live for a year as if it were my last and write about how I felt as the year happened.
It was a reasonably popular series of posts, even gathering up its own podcast along the way. Then at the end of the year, so three years ago, I summed up what I’d found in a succinct top ten thoughts:
You truly never know the day
You know that stuff about the ‘Present moment?’ It’s all true.
There has been a definite and seemingly permanent slowing down of the rage to succeed.
I don’t have the time to ‘fix things’ – I would rather be happy than right.
I am glad to be older.
I am happy where I am.
My camera and my writing give me great joy.
Most stuff is useless or worse.
Music matters deeply to me still. But not all music.
All you need is love, really.
So there, and most of them I’d still pretty much agree with. Don’t worry though, it’s not my intention here to go tediously through that list, as if there’s something definitive about it, and review how it all feels now. Continue reading “A year to live: Slow reflections”
I don’t write as much about music on this blog as I’d thought I would when I started it nearly five years ago. But I want to write briefly about it today because lately I’ve been thinking about Bill Withers and listening to a lot of his music.
Let’s go back to the last time in my life I remember buying a single. It’s 1972 sometime when I go into Beaver Radio on Whitechapel and buy this gorgeous song I’ve been listening out for on the radio. This is ‘Lean on me’ by Bill Withers and one of the best songwriters I will ever hear has entered my life. Around the same time Michael Jackson puts out ‘Ain’t no sunshine’ also by Bill Withers as one of his own early solo singles, and I’m sure something special is happening.
These are not like songs by anybody else, anybody else at all. They are only like songs by Bill Withers. Songs of friendship, wisdom and experience. Strongly expressed and quietly said. Back there in 1972 I’m not surprised when I find that this Bill is 31, so he’s lived a bit, and has written these songs while working on the production line in a factory.
“When I was making them up I’d sing them to myself over and over on the line there until they were memorable enough not to forget. Because I had no way of recording them out there on the factory floor.”
Over the next decade or so I’m always interested to hear new Bill Withers songs – Use Me, Hello like before, Grandma’s hands, Lovely day, Soul shadows, so many more.
Defend vinyl? Of course I do. Since I returned to buying LPs several years ago many of my happiest hours have been spent in record shops and charity shops doing the ‘flicking through LPs’ thing I’d thought I’d left long behind me.
But until recently there hadn’t been a proper record shop I could go to anywhere near where I live. Then around a month ago Defend opens here on Smithdown Road and becomes an immediate and regular part of my Saturday morning walks around the neighbourhood.
“Just a perfect day
Drink Sangria in the park
And then later
When it gets dark, we go home”
Day One of this year’s 24th Africa Oyé is truly one of those. Joyous music, good friends and Liverpool at our very best. So thank you all the musicians, sound engineers and organisers of Africa Oyé, Liverpool’s greatest gift to itself. And thank you Jennifer, Jayne, Jim, Clare, Simon, Ellie, Theo, Finn and everyone who stops to say hello.
Came round the corner in a car with my friend Laura and we both said “What?” And then we said “They’re doing it now.” One machine on top of the rubble, the other pulling the walls down. And it’s not like we didn’t know it would be happening, but to come round the corner and see it happening in front of us was nevertheless a shock.
Then we both turned to each other and we said “Why?”
Then I got out of the car and took these photos. Of Cream going. Of the Mello Mello building nearly ready to open as something I wish only well, but it isn’t Mello Mello and won’t have what Mello Mello had. The feeling of belonging to us all collectively. Then round the other side of the block to see through where Kazimier is going, back to where Cream had almost gone.
Writing this on the Ianrød Eirann train from Kent Station, Cork to Heuston Station in Dublin, after a week of quiet days in West Cork. Well mostly quiet and mostly West Cork, though we began and ended with nights in a hostel in Cork City. Bunk beds and excitable young voices in there, us taking refuge those evenings in the city’s pubs. The Sin É for the music, the history and the new out last year Rising Sons beer, brewed all of 800 meteres away. And the Shelbourne Bar for rare whiskeys we’d never afford and food you could send out for from the local cafés, such a civilised idea.
Mostly though quieter days of quieter thoughts far along the Beara Peninsula in furthest West Cork, hanging right out into the Atlantic Ocean.
‘Busy doing nothing’ but actually doing rather a lot. My partner Sarah Horton takes us to a Lido in Stroud and to pretty well everywhere in Bath – with added opinions. Take it away Sarah!
My ‘weekend in Bath’ actually begins in nearby Stroud. I am visiting my dear friend Gemma here, and she has found a monkey puzzle tree for my Monkey Map project. It’s in Stratford Park and we visit it on our way to the pool.
And the pool here is no ordinary municipal swimming pool. No, it’s an open air swimming pool, or a lido.
Through the ancient turnstiles, and into the pool.