I Never Meant To Stop Drinking

‘He went to bed with a rich and glorious evening, and he awoke at seven to find that it had gone bad overnight, as it were (like milk), and was in his mouth – bitter and sickly. He had not, after all, had a great time: he had merely been drinking again.’ – Patrick Hamilton, The Midnight Bell (1929)

I never meant to stop drinking, it wasn’t something I consciously ‘gave up’. Not like the times I participated in ‘Dry January’ for charity, where with support we could collectively draw strength for the arduous task of ‘giving up’, for ‘abstaining’, until with a last gasp of the month we could all pile back in on the 1st February. Back to our bottles of wine and pints of beer, congratulating ourselves of a month of abstinence and a few saved pounds in cash and a few lost pounds in weight. Then everything was back to normal. That morning malaise that heralded every morning like an underlying current of depression. The ideas of morning gym sessions, Saturday Parkruns and Sunday morning long runs that disappeared into the haze of a massive hangover after a Friday night on the town. I had so much to lose, weekday wine was a hard earn reward for the day worked. Friday night beer was a reward and a good time out with my friends. Saturday night beer because there was a band on at the local. Tuesday night beer on the way to the shops that ended with a closing time pizza and the food still un-bought. This was the merry-go-round life I was leading. Alcohol wasn’t a problem, it was just a fact of life. Dry January proves it’s not a problem, we can give it up, stop it, anytime we like. Of course, we don’t want to as that what makes life fun right? Who wants to be one of those boring teetotallers? Don’t drink, no fun.

I never meant to stop drinking, my life started to change subtly, a career break, working for minimum wage for a summer season on a campsite, working fifteen hours a day, tending bar, taking bookings, cooking fry-ups. Evening wine dwindled and disappeared, Friday nights were different on the other side of the bar. The season changed from summer to autumn and a nightly bottle of cider became the norm and then that dwindled and disappeared. Mornings became clearer and something finally registered. The cognitive dissonance of having a good time of which most of it becomes a blur of good time followed by some sort of down, the down of lacklustre sleep, the down of a few beers and a midnight snack of pizza and chips, the down of a massive hangover the lasts until 3pm. These don’t feel like good times, but sure as sure, by late afternoon I’m looking forward to a glass of wine with my dinner, maybe two. May as well finish the bottle. Somewhere that all disappeared.

I never meant to stop drinking, it just happened. It’s not an effort, it’s not a hardship, I’m not even ‘giving up’. Last week we dropped by the local pub for the quiz night. It’s something we do occasionally to stay in the social loop, have a beer and amuse ourselves by how many of the answers we don’t know. This week we stayed for the whole quiz. For reference, the quiz is three beers long. From eight o’clock to ten o’clock, three beers and two packets of crisps. I was awake at 4am, all that beer has to come out at some time. Disturbed night sleep, queasy morning, skipped the gym. Life was interrupted. This is when I realised that life had changed, no longer was I celebrating the night and accepting the consequences of the next morning, this time I was regretting the loss of my clear morning, the freedom to be on top form and for anything to be possible.

I never meant to stop drinking, it just happened. Like now when I’m in the supermarket and decide I want a glass of wine with my dinner and head to the wine aisle and remember, actually, I don’t. That was just a memory glitch, my old life bleeding through into now. And then I walk on with my life.

Learning Frailing Banjo Week 19

It’s week 19 and I’ve been practicing a new song ‘John Hardy’, one of the key priorities for me on the banjo is to learn the tunes and the words rather than having to depend on tabs and song sheets to remember them as I seem to have to do with the guitar. I have been practicing the first three lines of each verse (CC FC GG GG) and started by just playing the first string as the melody note for each chord. Once I had this cracked, as in I had learnt the order of the chords, I then looked again and practiced the melody strikes for each of those chords ie string 21 11 12 34 for each of those chords above. Looking at the tabs in Patrick Costello’s ‘The Outlaws and Sealawags Songbook’ there’s some funky hammer-ons and single note strikes at the end of each line to add in as well as soon as I am comfortable. That’s the great thing about learning these songs, they can be as simple or as complex as you like for your own stage of learning.

In this week’s video I also talk about making the melody notes sing and the twin trails of learning to play fast and also learning to play accurately as I fumble for the F chord.

Clipped Wings

At a summer camp celebrating the freedom of child-led education, attendance at the mandatory Monday morning recycling ‘workshop’ was announced by megaphone. ‘Clipped Wings’ is our response to that contradiction, the 3 chord tune provided a soundtrack to loosely rhyming contradictory statements which we threw onto some paper, this is just one version of it.

Learning Frailing Banjo Week 18

In week 18 I’m back at home again after our visit to Cleckheaton Folk Festival shown in the last video and also some time spent in Ceredigion, Wales where I recorded the guitar on the beach videos for ‘Ride On’ and ‘Say Goodbye To Me Gently’. I’ve submitted ‘Say Goodbye To Me Gently’ to the Lichfield Arts Song Writing Competition, so fingers crossed for the composition in the competition.

Today I talk about being able to pick out the melody notes from the general noise that I make on the banjo and also the start of the process of migrating another of my guitar songs, ‘Woman Without Dog’ to the banjo. We had a slightly lost and stressful morning of trying to figure out how many beats in the bar there were for each of my guitar finger picks for each chord in the song to then compare to a banjo strike/strum/thumb of which there are 2 sets to each bar. We had to start with the assumption that the song was in 4/4 time and came out with the probable timing of:

D – 4 or 5 or 6 bars
She’s up in the park every

G – 3 or 4 bars
day…………

C – 4 or 5 or 6 bars
Walking her dog at least that’s what she

G – 3 or 4 bars
says…………

IMG_2032

And finally my other project of learning the yoga headstand of Salamba Sirsana continues as a reminder that improvement is learnt and is achieved through regular practice.

 

Eating A Wrap On The Beach

Aberystwyth, the beach, the sun was hot but the wind was cold or at least cool. The temperature had dipped from the high twenties we had been been acclimatised to down to perhaps the low twenties now. The beach was pebbly but they were so small that with a little more effort and perhaps another million years it could be a sandy beach.

Entering the shade was much like visiting the dark side of the moon and with bare feet, the sun soaked pebbles underfoot felt burning hot, so we sought out a compromise and hotfooted it across the beach towards a concrete bastion that we hoped would shelter us from the wind.

Next that classic beach move of trying to change into your swimming trunks whilst in full view of pretty much everyone on the beach, and also those on the esplanade behind, with only a towel the size of a flannel to hide under. After a furtive few minutes, and now with bathing costumes weighed down with innumerable small pebbles that had snuck into every accessible and inaccessible nook and cranny, we made for the sea.

Entering water that is at a vastly different temperature to the ambient air temperature is always an experience. Yes, it will feel cold, yes, it will feel ok once you are in, and yes, once you are in you won’t necessarily want to get out. Remembering the hundreds of times I had swum in the river the year before last never helps, remembering the last few times I had swum in this sea, only the day before, for example, in fact that morning, didn’t help either. The process is always the same, expectantly and excitedly stripping off, and optionally changing into swimming attire, before plunging in up to the ankles or perhaps knees and thereafter inching in up to thigh tops. Then it’s a waiting game, each new millimetre of flesh that touches the water screams out in complaint and then is silent. That wasn’t too bad was it, but to plunge in, chest down, into the water? Not yet, let me think about it. Let me think about it a bit more. Perhaps I should just get out. But the water, and I know I’ll like it when I eventually get in. Ok, here goes. In a minute. Now. Hold on. Now. In a minute. Take a breath, pull a face and I’m in. yes, this is great, watch out for that jelly fish. What’s that? Ok, not a shark, just some seaweed. And I’m swimming, out to the end of the breakwater, and back in again, and out again, and along parallel to the beach and back again, and backstroke and breaststroke and just flapping around for bit. And then, all too soon it’s time to get out.

Ride On

I enjoy the deceptive simplicity of this song, after all it only has three chords, although watching it back now I feel I may be trying it in the wrong key and I need to finish learning all the words. But none of that is as important as the very act of creating music and creating art.

I remember one Open Mic I took part in, in my poet phase long before I ever imagined my singer/songwriter phase, where the compere’s invitation to perform ran along the lines of ‘if you’re sitting there thinking you can do better than this then now’s the time to show us’.

Brutal for those who had already performed, but perhaps effective (or not) for encouraging those who thought they were ‘better’. As if ‘better’ is a word you use to describe art or music. Anyways, it’s out there now and like a weekly Parkrun, I’d rather be there with a slower time than last week than still be in bed of a Saturday morning.

Say Goodbye To Me Gently

I wrote ‘Say Goodbye To Me Gently’ in around January 2017, strumming away on an old yellow guitar we had in the house. The song and melody was pretty much whole when it came out and I had to scrabble around for something to write it down on as it came out before it was lost. I have rarely been able to remember a song unless I quickly make notes immediately after or sometimes during the spontaneous creation of it. With some editing later it became this, although as I have difficulty memorising songs and poems verbatim, so the words are often fluid and no two versions are ever the same.

I have written before about the Journey I have undertaken to get to this place, to be able to sit in public and sing and play, albeit in this case with no audience other than the sea and some early morning dog walkers. I still stumble over the finger picking and the song only has two chords and that is all ok because when I wrote it I couldn’t fingerpick and with its flaws the song is now out there.

I will keep practicing this song and there will be new recordings of it. I am also working on a banjo version of it which is an interesting diversion. My dream would be to hear others creating their own versions of the song, the chords and a version of the lyrics are below, the melody you’ll have to pick up from the video.

Say Goodbye To Me Gently

C                                                               G

Take me down, take me down to the water
Take me down, take me down to the edge
Take me down, take me down to the water
Lay me down, lay me down at the edge

Say goodbye, say goodbye to me gently
Say goodbye, say goodbye to me at the edge
Say goodbye, say goodbye to me at the water
Let me slip, let me slip gently out to the West

Take me up, take me up to the mountain
Say goodbye, say goodbye to me at the edge
Take me up, take me up to the mountain
Let me slip, slip gently off of the edge
Take me up, take me up there to the mountain
Lay me down, just lay me down on the ledge

Say goodbye, say goodbye to me gently
Take me down, take me down, take me down to the water’s edge
Say goodbye, say goodbye to me gently
Say good bye, as we slip down from the edge.

Take me down, take me down to the water
Take me down, take me down to the edge
Say goodbye, say goodbye to me gently
Say goodbye, say goodbye to me at the edge

Cufflinks

Clearing out a drawer the other day, my Mum came across a small box containing a pair of cufflinks and shirt pins and a piece of paper inscribed ‘these were my Bruce’s studs – with love from Aileen’.

Aileen or Auntie Aileen as we knew her was my Grandfather’s sister, my Dad’s aunt. My Grandfather Cecil William Farrar Laurie and his sister Marie Aileen Lorna Laurie had been born in Barbados where the family once owned a sugar plantation.

The Bruce in the inscription was Bruce Hamilton, he and Aileen had married at the end of 1934 and it’s possible my dad, born in 1939, had been named for Bruce. He also received Farrar for his middle name, as I did later, a surname from Aileen’s branch of the family descended from Colonel Thomas Austin, another Barbados plantation owner, albeit it a much earlier one having been born there in 1728. This branch of the family included Austin Farrar who had been taught to write by Enid Blyton but was better known for inventing the ‘pulpit’, a guard rail that fits around the bow of a sailing yacht as a safety handhold and also for designing anti-torpedo nets during the Second World War. These two inventions have been credited with saving innumerable lives at sea.

Bruce and his younger brother Patrick Hamilton were both authors, Patrick being the more critically acclaimed author of ‘Hangover Square’, ‘Rope’ and with one of his plays, ‘Gaslight’, turned into the 1944 film starring Ingrid Bergman. ‘Gaslighting’ has entered the colloquial English language as the term commonly used for a form of physiological manipulation as experienced by the Bergman character in the film. Bruce’s most renowned works were the cricket based novel ‘Pro: An English Tragedy’, a poignant portrayal of the life of an English County cricketer around the time of the First World War. Patrick died in 1962 and Bruce in 1974, shortly after completing his brother’s biography ‘The Light Went Out: The Life of Patrick Hamilton’.

Aileen, an artist in her own right, was an infrequent visitor in the 1970’s to the quiet Northamptonshire village where her brother and his large extended family lived. I don’t remember much of these times as I was quite young, but I do remember she always seemed to be drawing. She would often make pencil sketches of the children and I’m sure many members of the family have these tucked away in old family photo albums.

My last memory of Aileen was from when I was perhaps 14 or 15, which would have been around 1986 when my Mum and Dad and I travelled to Brighton to visit her. Aileen died in 1987, my Dad in 2015 and now thirty years after first being given, these small mementos of both Bruce’s lives have come out into the open again.