Learning experience

Learning or experience, or both? Who knows? It has to be a combination I think, which sits at odds with things I used to believe, that learning meant sitting still and reading a book. I didn’t learn as much as I should have done that way, and my grades showed it. I got bored, I looked at of the window and wrote poems about trees and girls, all the stuff the lovable but messing-up kid does in films, a kind of budget Owen Wilson, a bit older.

Same as me, really. Sort of. No, really.
Same as me, really. Sort of. No, really.

Video Killed The Radio Star

I looked-up Owen Wilson on a movie database. He came out with the kind of thing I’d say:

There’s that great quote from Beckett, I think, ‘He had an abiding sense of melancholy that sustained him through brief periods of joy.’ 

Why? Because I know that feeling. I live that feeling. It’s not altogether a bad thing, but that’s the way it is. But I also recognise the academic slopiness betrayed by the ‘I think,’ the attitude that says look, I’ve read quite a lot of stuff and if I’m just generally quite charming and seem assured I can usually get away with saying things that maybe perhaps aren’t entirely accurate, because to be honest, charm beats rigour.

As it should and it’s fine unless you’re say, building a motorway bridge or doing neurosurgery, but it’s not the nicest thing to know about yourself. You see? You see what I mean?

But the learning experience, well, there have been several this week. For the first time in a long time I went out and interviewed someone on their territory.

The Monday Lifeboat Party show, my radio slot now has two interviews all lined up and sort-of ready to go. Almost. Except one I recorded onto CD and I can’t get it off onto my editing software because my CD drive is bust and I can’t unwrap the files from their email format and the other one is just about edited and now I can’t burn it to a CD because my CD blah…..

Technology. It’s not the studio’s fault. This is my own kit that’s broken. The learning was one of those usual learning things. I’d never edited sound before. I got about an hour and a half of material from the first interview, about forty minutes from the second one in Walberswick. That one I recorded on my iPhone. Depressingly, the sound quality was way better than on the expensive digital recorder I got just a couple of years ago, really good, easily as good as the studio recording.

It's a bit over the top for editing audio tape, isn't it?
It’s a bit over the top for editing audio tape, isn’t it?

But too much of it. I had to learn to cut bits out of the recording and join it back together again. It used to be done with magnetic tape, a guillotine and glue. You’ve seen it in the films.

Just kidding and anyway, it’s all done, like most other things (yes even that, or arranging it, anyway) these days on a laptop. It took me hours to get started. What I should have done is listened through with a piece of paper and a pen and marked-up where I wanted to cut.

The first ten times I cut anything I deleted the entire track and had to re-load it from the place Steve Jobs at Apple had thoughtfully put a spare, knowing I’d probably do something like that. Thanks for looking out for me, Steve. You don’t get that from Bill Gates, just 46 questions asking you if you really want to do that are you sure you want to do that are you really sure you want to do that and do you feel lucky, well do you punk? And we all know how that one ends.

But then it clicked, literally. I got it. I found how to cut. I found out how to cut just at the start of a word so there’s no silence and no dreaded Splicer’s Disease, where words get merged into each other so that people talking about a delightful cream-coloured jumper ruined when someone fell out of a punt changes utterly when you cut the wrong nine words and six letters. And as always, after I’d learned how to do it  I couldn’t really imagine a time when I didn’t know how to do it. It’s so easy. Except until you learn it by doing it, it really isn’t. Which makes learning a much more complicated thing than I’d ever really thought about, but I’m thinking about learning a lot this week.

This morning a final listen through and see whether I can be bothered to cut the coughs and intakes of breath (no, just normal ones, it wasn’t that sort of recording). Then find a way to get it onto the mixing deck at the studio. I might go in on Sunday and see what I can do. A day you don’t learn anything is a day wasted, after all.


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There’s a band playing

About a million years ago I fell in love with a song. I know, another one. But this one, this one was really special. It had something other songs just didn’t have. Rythym. Lyrics that touched my heart.

It was Roxy Music’s Oh Yeah (On The Radio) and the rhythm of rhyming guitars still does it for me. *sigh*

Anyway pop-pickers, you can hear my own selection of corny old songs (and some new corny songs too) at Radio Castle on my show, the LifeBoat Party.

It’s on Monday at noon BST. If you miss it you can listen again if you make like a dolphin and click here. As we say down the station.

Any requests, let me know – we’ve got 21,000 songs on the system apart from the awful old stuff I bring in as well.



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Slowly Close The Door


Step into the midnight garden.

Slowly close the door.

I feel the ghost of you beside me.

Thinking about the times that you were here.

Feel the eyes of all the people here before.

Love hangs heavy here.


We talked out here on summer nights.

All those evenings slipped away.

How did we get to be the people that we are?

When you get love make it stay.


Hello loneliness I missed you not at all.

Hello, just another girl I knew.

Hello memories and snapshots in the rain

Reading all the writing on the wall.


I remember how it felt when I was young.

So intense and never real at all.

Now we know so much about

The people we’ve become

How come I still ride out to fall?


Someone told me less is more.

Said it just to help me on my way.

No-one told me that you’d take my heart

And leave it out of doors.

Should’ve listened when you never said you’d stay.


Hello loneliness I missed you not at all.

Hello just another girl I knew.

Hello memories and snapshots in the rain.

Reading all the writing on the wall.

(I’m reading all the writing on the wall.)



Is someone having a laugh or what?

This is something I wrote just recently for Frances Shelley who asked me if I’d like to do some lyrics. When I got up off the floor I realised it wasn’t a joke at all.

I drew on things that had happened to me; the midnight garden I stepped into once, a long, long time ago, the one that became the garden that Ben stepped into in Not Your Heart Away , as well as my own midnight garden I stepped into here. I thought about something that happened this past summer.

This is what came out. It might come out alright yet. The lyric might be ok with a bit of work too.


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Joseph Knecht’s Posthumous Lament

Herman Hesse. Author

No permanence is ours; we are a wave

That flows to fit whatever form it finds:

Through day or night, cathedral or the cave

We pass forever, craving form that binds.


Mould after mould we fill and never rest.

We find no home where joy or grief runs deep.

We move, we are the everlasting guest.

No field nor plough is ours, we do not reap.


What God would make of us remains unknown.

He plays; we are the clay to his desire.

Plastic and mute, we neither laugh nor groan,

He kneeds, but never gives us to the fire.


To stiffen into stone, to persevere!

We long forever for the right to stay.

But all that ever stays with us is fear,

And we shall never rest upon our way.

By Hermann Hesse, from Magister Ludi




I read this a long time ago, in a desert far away. I was about Ben’s age in Not Your Heart Away.  A girl sat on an abandoned tractor one night with the wind blowing her hair while I read the poem aloud from the book she carried. Those sentences tell you probably all you need to know about who we were, then. The feeling’s stayed with me ever since, inside me head. Not that one, the one that took us out to the abandoned tractor to talk, as people used to say (‘let’s go somewhere we can talk…’) but the book thing, the stage-prop, the lever, the excuse, the poem, that’s stayed with me.

Walking with blue

Rudolf Hess. Nutter.
Rudolf Hess. Nutter. Do not confuse the two.


I’ve spent the day going through old notebooks, trying to write songs, remembering old dreams. And then I found this. It should not have become my song, the song of my life or if it had to not then, when I was nineteen. There might be a time for this in people’s lives, maybe particularly if they’re German. If you’ve lost a world war or two. If you’ve got one too many duelling scars from Heidelberg. If you’re a short dark painter who can’t paint very well and live in a bedsit with people like Christopher Isherwood flitting about. But not when you’re a teenage British kid into Magazine and Kate Bush, wearing black cords and red Kickers, just off to university. What was wrong with me? What, you know, was it?

I, like, didn’t know who I was. Well, big news. I still don’t. A bit more, a bit more than then perhaps. But as the other bladerunner said at the end of the film, the one who wasn’t Harrison Ford, the one who hadn’t fallen in love with a mechanical blow-up doll, the one who’d found out they were programmed to fall to bits in a couple of years because it was all too much for them, then again, who does?

I’ve never felt I had a home, more than for about an hour or two. People have tried to make me feel that, truly tried, but it didn’t stick. Or maybe I didn’t stick. It’s not a big noble born under a wandering star thing, just this no permanence is mine thing. I’d like it to be. I don’t think it’s going to happen now.

Years ago there was a film. Bob Hoskins, the Singing Detective, the uber-geezer in The Long Good Friday, the friendly bloke from the BT ads who told us it was good to talk fell into a cartoon as a 1940s gum-shoe, a private eye trying to find-out Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Prime suspect was Jessica Rabbit, a smouldering torch singer with a figure to die for and Bob thought Roger probably had. She was trouble. You could see that a mile away. A voice that would smoke tarmac when she said: “I’m not really bad. I’m just … drawn that way.” That was me.

"I'm not bad. I'm just....drawn that way."
“I’m not bad. I’m just….drawn that way.”

Not Jessica Rabbit, you understand. I’ve never poured myself into a ball gown. Poured people out of them, but that’s a different thing altogether. (“That’s a different thing.” Thank-you.)

But that thing, the longing forever for the right to stay. I know that feeling. It has nothing to do with mortgages or arrears or where you live or passports or visas. People like us now, we do so many different things. You can call it a portfolio career if it helps. I’ve cooked crepes, shot things, explained things, found things, made things, written things and yes, I crave a form that binds, a certainty, a constancy. And at the same time I avoid it as if it was contagion incarnate, as if it burned my eyes.

I should never have found this poem. I should never have found this poem again. But it didn’t change my life. It just articulated some of it.


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On the radio



Well, that was the second Lifeboat Party show at www.radiocastle.com I did on Monday. The general consensus is still camp, but slicker.

You can listen to it again wherever you are in the world by just clicking here and judge for yourselves. I got my very most favourite fan laughing even though I didn’t get the thing in about the Suffolk Space Programme.

That aluminium silo on that farm outside Wickham Market? Oh come on!! You didn’t think that was farm stuff did you? It’s for an ICBM the Americans left when they abandoned Bentwaters airbase in 1992. We’ve used it to put farmers into space out here for the last 15 years, after we worked out how to turn the methane in battery chicken poo into rocket fuel. Townies. They don’t know nuffin…


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Mists and mellow

Early September, the fruiting time, with plum juice and warmth and wasps in the air, when you know the summer is fading and the cold is coming. You can smell it in the air in the evening, in the morning now too. And think of times colder. Cold is different wherever you go. I remember the white cold of Norway that March I went there, rivers still hidden under feet of snow that lay on the ice., all the contours of the earth smooth and flowing. The other cold I found there too, when I went out without a hat and got caught in the rain, so cold it made me think  I might die.

And the cold of the West Country, those mornings when I was young and we had no heat in the house until the fire was lit, apart from the choking paraffin heater at the bottom of the stairs that sent fumes into my room while I was asleep; a sort throat from November to March. Ice ferns on the windows inside, astonishing skies orange and yellow and pale blue with no clouds, as if all of Wiltshire was flying through space, so high above the earth in my council house bedroom, the concrete tiled rooftops, the sodium streetlights. My crystal radio with its wire loop of aerial strung around the front door porch. I haven’t felt that cold since then, since I left the place where I came from.

A different kind of cold out here in the East. A sadder one as the year spins into its last part, towards the long night. And one where now the summer is over the people have gone back to their real lives, leaving this pretend holiday place still bathing in the cooling waters of the retirees mantra: ‘it’s always been like this,’ as if a place was ever built where six out of ten houses are lived in only now and then.

I dreamed a mouse was trapped in the bin where I keep the chicken’s corn. In my dream I tip the bin slowly so the little mouse can escape. Yellow and orange mist as I leave the house this morning. Figs from the tree I planted half a decade ago this sweet Autumn. There are much worse times than these.

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Every picture tells a story

The picture at the top of this blog has attracted some comments over the months it’s been up. Where is it? Haunting. Beautiful.


It was taken near the harbour mouth at Southwold either late in 2012 or early, very early, this year, 2013, on an iPhone, looking north, towards the pier. It had been raining heavily and there’d been a storm so there was a shallow lagoon on the beach, the water in the photo. I haven’t been there many times since.

By chance

Someone was walking along to give the shot some depth and perspective.  I don’t know who. I never shall.

Would it have been a better picture without anyone in it? I think the person locates it, gives it something that however beautiful and haunting that place is, would have been totally lacking without that one single, apparently insignificant person.

Because that’s the thing about insignificant people. They aren’t. Nobody is.

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Radio Days

About a thousand years ago, or in the 1980s which sometimes feels like much the same thing,  there was a superb show on the radio called A Prairie Home Companion. Way back when jihad was just something the Dukes of Hazzard used to say I travelled around the prairie, and that ain’t no lie. I got caught in a prairie lightning storm outside Colby, Kansas, sleeping in my old Chevrolet while I went to hunt Hunter Thompson, but that’s a whole other story. The whole point of the Prairie Home Companion is that nothing much happens on it, which is much the same as what happens on the prairie and if you think it’s easy to make that sound realistic on the radio, think again.

Lifeboat Party

It was my first live radio show today. The Lifeboat Party went out on www.Radio Castle.com at noon. Come February it’s going on old fashioned radio as well as out as a web broadcast, so I can really put the F in FM.

So today I’d cycled out to the auctions at half past nine to see what was happening, see whether my friend with the live milk farm was there (she was), see if there were any bicycles I could buy and sell on eBay to Japan (there weren’t, but it did happen once) and to see if friends from the village really were going to buy some chickens at the livestock auction.

Tracks Of My Tears

Well, they meant to. It’s about comfort zones. What you’re used to. The bidding started on a cardboard box containing four Light Sussex chicks. Hardly anyone bid. They went for £2. No, all four for £2. The person I knew was going to bid on some hens. He’s got a sensible, responsible job where he needs to keep control of a lot of different things going off at the same time. And he froze, bidding on a chicken.

When I cycled on to Framlingham my show was about the same. The first ten minutes were fine. My guest came in and if I got the name of her company wrong it was sort-of ok. It was after that, when the mixing deck froze so I could only play CDs and I couldn’t remember which CD was in which rack and …..


Looking Counter Clockwise

Ok. Nobody in Suffolk would know the difference between the Gotan Project and Federico Aubelle at noon on a back-to-school Monday anyway. But I do. And I need to do it better next time. Rabbit in headlights. Moth to a flame. You know, I’d sell my soul for total control.

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Real life

The trouble with life is all the stuff that goes with it. Household repairs. Irritating, upsetting, unsettling letters saying you have to do someone else’s job for them to sort out a mess they’ve made on the basis of their assumptions and if you don’t it’s your fault and no, don’t ever ring them again because they aren’t going to answer the phone. And that’s just the tax office.

It gets in the way. I haven’t written anything for weeks. It’s making me wonder who I am. Was the book any good? I was told the other day it was boring.

‘But you said it was well-written?’

‘Yes. It is. But it’s boring. Nothing happens.’

And then you’re straight into I don’t think that’s true and it’s not supposed to be an action-thriller and sometimes stuff happens when things don’t actually happen and I’m not walking out on you I’m just going for a cigarette and would you like a drink when you get back. All that stuff.

And getting my first radio show ever in the world and learning to work the decks (I know. Get me. And my posse, as I believe it’s called). And going for interviews to start a training course and finding I liked the one I didn’t expect to like much more than the other one, which is much better in some ways and has a better reputation but also has a much higher commuting bill attached to it.

And going to a wedding. I’ve never met the bride. I last saw the groom five years ago or thereabouts. He was something to do with a tango show in Yeovil. A girl I had one date with 15 years before was there. I didn’t recognise her now she was 40 and dressed in weird woolen clothes of a style I’d only seen in Miss Marple films. Odd.

So all of that stuff and other things and the end of summer and what to wear to this wedding which isn’t in a church. It might have been better if I hadn’t picked up the shirt I was going to wear just after I’d fixed an old bicycle I was out riding this morning.

It’s still sunny, just cool enough to make cycling brilliant. The roads were empty, this rural Saturday. A peaceful, calm morning and the promise of better weather to come. I hope the wedding is the same.

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Drinking at lunchtime

Back in the day, when that woman from the Darling Buds of May was still er, budding with Pop Larkin and hadn’t even met Michael Douglas who was still on the set of Wall Street, one of his lines was famously ‘Lunch is for wimps.’

Trickle-down Theory

He was playing Gordon Gecko, the character who also came out with the 1980s mantra, Greed is good and please let’s move swiftly on before all of us who were there have to admit how much we took that to heart. Gecko was the embodiment of the people who we now subsidise, the ones whose wealth mysteriously didn’t ‘trickle down,’ in theory or otherwise. Gecko did deals on a mobile phone the size of a housebrick, in his dressing gown, on the beach. Yeah, we all thought. That could be me one day.

Except for the lunch thing. Greed is good. Lunch is better.

The anti-lunchers tried to spin it as decadence (And your problem is, exactly?) and a loss of control. And that could happen. I remember going to lunch and being asked to order some drinks. Wine? Sure, you have whatever you like? She waited until the bottle was brought to the table and open before she said: ‘I don’t drink at lunchtime.’

It was presented as if I had a problem drinking when clearly I had no problem drinking at all, unlike the person who was going to lose control after two glasses of wine. Or said she would, anyway. Losing control of the amount she ate didn’t seem to be any kind of problem, but that was obviously a different story.

I never believed it. I’ve always thought if you can’t sit and share some food with someone, or at least a drink, there’s something deeply wrong with them. Life gets better when you sit and talk to people. Food makes a neutral, natural setting for that to happen.

And if I hadn’t been sitting having lunch with a friend this week I wouldn’t have bumped into someone I knew who also believed in the business efficacy of the working pub lunch, who’s just offered me some script-writing work and wants me to do a voice-over test.


Lunch is for wimps, is it? Missing lunch is for people who can’t be trusted.

And if you ever wondered where the darling buds of May thing came from it wasn’t just HE Bates. He nicked it from Shakespeare, who lived in Stratford on Avon, where I was born, where Ben and Claire and Peter and Liz in Not Your Heart Away went one evening a thousand years ago. It’s sonnet XVIII, since you ask.

Sonnet XVIII

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

As we say down the Plough & Sail. Sometimes. It depends on the company.

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