The Day the Music Died.

I’ve just been reading about the shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. It was a gay venue that was attacked by a lone gunman. Twenty people were thought to have been killed. And so their music died.

The song itself is a reflection on the great American dream. The hope that sprang up in the fifties stemmed from a lot of the population finding themselves more affluent and able to afford the things their parents could only dream of.

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Funny that isn’t it? This great American dream was happening against the backdrop of the civil rights campaign. Racism had led to countless atrocities against the black community. How many were living the dream only to sneak away at night to don their KKK uniforms, before rocking up with their burning crosses at some family’s home because the father was seen to be making a success of his life? How many people were shot or hanged because their son was black and one of the young white girls in the town had taken a shine to him?

Thus, the ambiguity of the Don Mclean lyrics opens up a whole host of topics for debate. I had originally meant this post to be about the time when English music died. It died along with Henry Purcell on 21st November 1695. But that’s now another story.

I just want to say that the words of that song never really go away and there are a lot of areas it can relate to. Despite the title, it transcends international boundaries; I could relate many parts of that song to points of social development in the United Kingdom.

All I can think of now is the plight of victims and relatives, regardless of being in the news or not. Why are so many people’s dreams shattered by others?

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Isn’t the world big enough for everyone’s dreams?

Thank-you for reading.

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Oasis

I remember having a go at saying the word oasis. I was nine years old. I’d seen the word and knew what it meant but saying it was a different matter. I can’t remember if I said it properly but the teacher was well impressed with my explanation. Oasis: a fertile spot in a desert, where water is found.

Although it’s a simple enough definition, the actual meaning goes a lot deeper than the explanation. How do you see an oasis? Is it a little bit of sanity in amongst the madness? A haven in a sea of torment and pain? Is it your own room, your favourite chair or park bench, a specific place or even your own car. As a sufferer of MS, I have found a number of oases.

On my sofa in the flat when it’s just me. red_sofa

On my scooter somewhere in the Sussex countryside. Writing on the laptop. Creating art.

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Interestingly, all these places are dominated by solitude. But there are two exceptions. Firstly there is being joined on the sofa by my wife when the little one is fast asleep. That doubles the number. More exceptional however is one of our rare trips to the Royal Festival Hall. Now that is a real oasis. It is surrounded by desert. I use the term loosely. Of course, our thriving buzzing metropolis is not a desert. But just like oceans of burning sand, it is a gargantuan mass of life.

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Everywhere you look, it is in your face; shops, restaurants, traffic, noise, rush, hassle and crowds. If you were to stand anywhere in London and close your eyes, your ears would be assaulted by the discordant cacophony of modern city life.

Dare I say that in London the art of conversation has been ousted by demands and shouts of derision as everyone seems so desperate to get somewhere? On the streets, no-one seems to talk to each other. It’s more like the orders of the battlefield or the ranting of a football match. Even inside the Southbank Centre itself the barking continues.

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As you pass on the train, looking down at the swelling masses buzzing around the concourse, it looks like any other cultural market place. It’s iconic fifties concrete facade is not exactly inviting.

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It’s only when you sit down in that hall and the lights go down, does my oasis come into view. No-one talks, a few people cough and we all listen.

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Two hours later we pass from our little corner of heaven. People still shout and argue but I am refreshed and indifferent to the tensions around me. I don’t really care if some selfish lazy people are clogging up the disabled lift. (It actually sings each level.)

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We could miss a train or the weather could be awful but that little burst of musical delight has put the life back into my virtual stride. It’s so necessary. The journey home may be full of everything but I am oblivious to its effect.

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You don’t stare, you speak kindly and you languish in your recent pleasure. That is my oasis. I can say the same about many of the other concert venues I have gone to; especially the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. But the Festival Hall is my current buddy. Thank-you for reading.

Brexit, Brinit.

“The greatest uncertainty associated with leaving the EU is that no country has ever done it before, so no one can predict the exact result.”

Source: http://www.theweek.co.uk/eu-referendum

The above is from “The Week”, in which it aims to give a reasoned, succinct and balanced summary of the main issues. It’s a short but complex article. Would you be inclined to read it through? It covers trade, investment, the membership fee, immigration and security. The last two points are the most tangible for us common people. You can really whip up public passion with those two topics. You can also play the patriot card and proclaim our pride as an independent island nation, needing to break away from the dominance of the germans et al. Equally so, one could claim that once out of the EU, bigger fish will set their greedy little sights on us as easy pickings; the Americans, the Chinese, even the Indians and, (dare I say it?) the Russians.

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Let us take two scenarios; an in and out one. This is where we do joined up thinking. It’s quite easy to do if you’re sitting on a bus or lying awake at night. At school we may have called it brain storming. But this phrase was replaced as a thought shower due to fears of association with mental illness. I wonder if that was an EU directive? (No!)20160602_141354

Firstly, we vote out: Hundreds of thousands of European migrants will no longer be allowed to work in the UK. There will be chaos at the airports. Cheap labour will disappear. No-one will be available to pick or pack our home-grown fruit and vegetables. Food will go to waste. Prices will rise. The nation will be less inclined to eat fresh food. A deal will be struck with whoever to import cheap produce. It will be inferior or GM produced. Foreign food gangs will go underground as an illegal trade is established. The money saved on donations to the European kitty will be creamed off by most wealthy. The population’s health will suffer. The NHS will eat itself.20160602_124713

 

This may sound ludicrous that someone like me could possibly expect this to be accurate or realistic; of course, it is pure conjecture.

So let’s conjecturise about staying: (I’m claiming that as a new word.) Everyone comes to the UK. There is mass seasonal migration into and around the country. The housing shortage goes into meltdown. Workers camps emerge at the roadside. They begin to infiltrate the more typical British professions. We will now have to deal with East European accents at call centres. Polish and Romanian become core subjects. The increasing burden of non-english speaking children destroys the education system.960

Equally ludicrous. But isn’t the political bandwagon also using a similar dogma based on such flimsy predictions? What gets humans going? How do you get people to follow your way? Scare them or tempt them. Set up lifestyle ideals. Give them that yellow brick road.Follow-The-Yellow-Brick-Road

Perhaps you could put together you own thought storm or brain shower (whatever), focusing on what will affect you. Just do it in your head.(I rather like this joined up, semi chain reaction type of theorising.) Then search your conscience. Forget the politicians. There are plenty of reasoned arguments set out for and against on pages like the link above. Try “The Conversation”, another independent online blog site which avoids the fire and brimstone scare-mongering. Know before you vote. And if you already know, know a bit more. Again, I’m just throwing ideas around, trying not to let it do my head in.20160602_124118

Thank-you for reading.

Shakespeare is worth it but……

William Shakespeare is famous for his plots and sub-plots. This is part of the fascination. His gift for knitting together the most extraordinary expositions, developments and outcomes graced with exquisite expressionism, keeps him at the forefront of the literary and dramatic world. His work is power.

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If you want some of this power, you have to embark on some course of learning. You may wish to do it collectively with like-minded people, under the tutelage of an experienced Shakespearean aficionado. Or you could go it alone. There is a wealth of information online or hiding on the dustier shelves of our great libraries; kept discreetly apart from the Catherine Cooksons or Philip Pullmans. Either way, with some level of determination you can begin to gain some foothold into the man’s genius and realise just how damn sexy he is. I mean that in an artistic sense of course.download

Similarly, I could eulogise about the music of Mozart, a man who was still writing the overture to the Magic Flute the night before its first performance. Now there’s one complicated plot. It is too complex for me; complexity for the sake of complexity.

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Papageno with his flute.

I like the word though; it has a hint of the onomatopoeia about it. But it goes deeper than splash, is a little more expressive that bash and carries more impact than grunt. Now, can we think of a current over-complex plot? How about the upcoming drama of the referendum on the European Union.

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While it’s plot may be more complex than The Tempest, I find no desire to begin unpicking it for any traces of enlightenment. The reason? Well as my late Grandmother would have said: “It’s all my arse and Paddy’s elbow.”

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Now that is a brilliant description of complexity for its own sake. Yes, the European debate has taken on new levels of complication. The real issues appear to have been hidden by the  politicians’ tendency for making things personal. Is this more about a struggle for power? Can you imagine the respective outcomes of in or out?

We vote in: Cameron gets a PHd in smugness as his already over-inflated idea of self-importance goes into re-heat.

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Gove, Johnson and the other worms begin eating each other before finally emerging from the tin with their own ideas of healing the wounds of opportunistic ambition. Cameron’s face, as he looks at them crawling out back into the light: “Go on, slime balls, make yourselves prime minister after that!” Imagine the wailings of Farage.

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You may have already noticed how much his head bobbles sharply when he talks. It would probably go into some turbo-charged Tarantella before bursting into flames.

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The vote is out: All change. Johnson struts majestically about the corridors of Parliament with Gove just behind him, trying desperately to keep in step.

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Then Duncan Smith morphs into his evil alter-ego as he finds ways of making everyone “pay” for chasing him out of office.

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Cameron is seen momentarily scurrying about on a different floor, trailing brown slime and enquiring about advances in gunpowder technology. This is before having to face questions about getting into bed with the enemy.

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And Farage? You may have already noticed how much his head bobbles sharply when he talks. It would probably go into some turbo-charged Tarantella before bursting into flames.

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Somehow I get the idea of same old same old with the glorious leader of the memberless party. I know they have one MP but he hates him anyway. So with each camp winding up the electorate with issues fuelled by basic instincts and emotion, they are engaging in a squabble of unprecedented political magnitude.

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All I can say is vote against the people you like the least. Difficult isn’t it? I suspect that despite its top-billing it will make little difference either way. What have I just said? There are so many genuine day to day issues which give credence to either vote. The questions of immigration, jobs, exports and that transatlantic trade deal will affect us ordinary humble folk. But for the fat cats? And I include the politicians. I doubt it would make any difference to their gathering of extreme wealth. Oh, and how about Gideon, the smiling assassin? Perhaps he’ll just continue his stealth offensive between sniffs; systematically eliminating each opponent before he is the only possible candidate for the next Conservative leader.

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So I say vote with your heart because like so many other people I’ve spoken to, it’s doing my head in.

The Realisation Part Three.

We may talk about the abyss. The living hell, the fate worse than death or the end of the world. A local newspaper announced that a six-month bridge closure in the town would mean “carmageddon.” Ha-ha very funny; some tin-pot journalist from the local rag is now feeling very smug with that term. But it’s serious. People will be stuck in their cars. There will be queues. There will be outrage. Men who consider themselves very important will be delayed. There will be nothing they can do about it. No amount of six figure salary is going to make it any easier.

Grosvenor Road Bridge, Tunbridge Wells.
Grosvenor Road Bridge, Tunbridge Wells.

Two miles from home and they will be stuck. Oh the horrors.

And I wonder; what the hell do they know? It’s not going to change their lives. But they’ll still get road-rage. Big deal, I’ve got function rage. I rage at being stuck in a chair or stuck on the floor because I made a vain attempt to get to the bathroom and did one of my famous one-way slow motion capitulations. I rage at not being able to walk. I look at all the cars outside the local primary school and wonder how many of those parents were too lazy to walk.

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Then I put the news on and look at other people. They are in war zones in fear of their life watching people around them get shot and blown up. They are trudging mournfully across Europe or dying in rafts trying to get across the Mediterranean Sea. I breathe a sigh of relief. News gives you perspective; from the squabbling politicians to the worst acts of human indecency, it enables us to evaluate and appreciate what we have.

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Since diagnosis there have been some key moments. At school we were going to do an overnight trip somewhere in the Kent countryside. The first activity was a walk along the coast. I thought I could do it. I didn’t even make it out of the lane. Everyone was puzzled. They didn’t know about my condition. One of the other teachers thought I was lazy and just didn’t fancy it. The following year I went on more trips but was “excused” from any walking. And I was criticised for turning down the opportunity to referee for the football team.

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I was reluctant to come clean. When I started at that school I had replaced a teacher who had to retire because of MS. No need to explain my reticence. Once I arrived at Alicante Airport ready to pick up my hire car. The clutch was awkward. Well it wasn’t. My left foot was becoming downright disobedient. It wasn’t long before I found an automatic car.

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I’d always been keen on going to football matches. I have been to over fifty different grounds. At Ipswich, I had a seat in the top tier to see them play my team, Everton. Yes the stairs went well. I was slow and steady, holding on firmly to the hand rail. Then on the way to the seat, I ran out of support rail. I couldn’t move. Thank goodness for helpful stewards. No-one accused me of being drunk. It’s worth having a stick just to escape the great “misunderstanding”.

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Another moment was at work. I was beginning to struggle with walking short distances. On summer days, the heat would exacerbate my condition. I couldn’t put it off any longer; I went in with my walking stick. I taught wonderful children. Instantly they became helpful and did not want me to lift or carry anything. One young chap quietly told me that he was going to bring in an old walking stick from home so that I could use it. What reason do I have to rage?

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Heat was becoming a vital factor. Heat is now the devil’s work. One very hot day, my year group were doing a singing day in a local christian centre. It was air-conditioned. What a joy. I felt normal. At the end of the day, I went back to my classroom to do an hour’s marking. I just didn’t notice. When I tried to get up I sort of melted into a heap. I didn’t get home that day. I spent the night courtesy of the NHS in an acute stroke ward. I thought I’d had one. It was the heat. After a hot sleepless night, I vowed that even if I did have a stroke, I was going to refuse to accept it. There were six beds in the ward. Half of them had had their lives devastated in an instant.

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This brings me to the end of the teaching career. You spend all that time making excuses for yourself, explaining why you’re having a bit of difficulty coping with carrying a file or trying to move things about the classroom. Was it not enough that it was now physically impossible to play the piano? It took firm words before I realised. I was referred to occupational health. In the meeting with the health worker, she concluded by declaring: “I’m going to declare you unfit to teach.” It was pure relief.

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That was nearly four years ago. It has been a long road piecing together the resolve and resources to make my life a life and not a sentence. What would I do without a battery or the support of my wife and others who have lived through my physical decline? I have had a lot of support and both appreciate and remember it. There has been so much to realise. But the main thing is for me to realise what I still have and what I can still do. Believe me, I’m one lucky son of a twitch. (MS joke.) Thank-you for reading.

The realisation part 2

You know when something is wrong. I could party all night. I could walk or cycle for miles. I was at university doing my PGCE. I had wanted to be a teacher for years and I was finally going to do it. I was sharing a house with an old friend who had a dog. Obviously, I liked taking the big fellow for a walk. But one day I struggled. I just had to sit down. It was distressing. I used to bound up stairs like a gazelle. Now flat surfaces were turning into endless staircases. Later in the year, I tried playing five-a-side. It was hopeless. I was carrying two bricks for feet.

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Fast forward to a holiday in France. I went on a beautiful walk along a dribbling river bed. It had been a dry summer. The sense of escape and freedom was memorable. But then so was walking up the final hill to the car park. I couldn’t do it. My friends thought I was joking. Now, here I was with disobedient limbs. After a very long time, I’d inched up the slope to collapse in the car. And it was there, somewhere in the Pyrenees Atlantique by Orthez, that I knew I really needed help.

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The other memorable part of that holiday was visiting an old castle on a hilltop. It was history all around me. I stood there on the battlements looking into the distance feeling the sense of waiting and forboding; dreaming I was ready to defend my freedom. I could almost hear the roar of the charging English. There was a moment of silent drama as my heartbeat raced expecting to see the sight of the first soldier emerging under the grey leaden sky.

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In contrast to the previous incident I was telling myself not to be so weak minded. All I needed was exercise. But when I came back from the holiday I made an appointment with my GP. I wasn’t expecting much. My previous attempts at unravelling the mysteries of my encroaching disorder had failed: “You drink too much,” was the common response. I was for ever being passed on to the practice nurse who would go off on one about abusing the weekly alcohol limit.

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Personally I think they were just shirking responsibility. I was a young single professional; of course I drank too much. It was the lowest common denominator.

So this appointment arrived. Stone me it was Nicole. I knew her. She was standing in for my new GP whom I’d never met.  That was it. She listened to me and started the ball rolling. Neurologist, CSF, MRI and some weird thing in a darkened room when I had electrodes on my head.

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When Mr Blobby was the Christmas number one, my neurologist was beginning to hint at the outcome of my tests. It took until the following March before he confirmed it. It was a glorious day. I had the day off work. For once I wasn’t getting up int the middle of the night to claw my way thirty-eight miles through urban chaos to knock up the caretaker to let me in. It was one of those single storey primary schools flanked by high-rise flats. A symphony of grey with a thousand blank eyes staring down on the playground. We gave our children six hours of hope and encouragement before unleashing them back into their jungles of alcohol and drug abuse. Needles littered the walkways. And there were lads on street corners.

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On that glorious day in March, I received my news and drove out to a friend’s. But on the way, I heard Shostakovich’s Prelude and Fugue in A major. It was a wow moment. My friend asked me about the appointment but all I did was rave about the music. “Oh yeah, he said it was MS,” I eventually admitted. My friend was stunned. “But I’ve got the rest of my life to worry about that. I’m going into town to order that CD.” I have since loved that piece of music. And that’s how I end part two; with a huge smile and wave of joy.

 

 It’s the first and second of the four pieces in this extract. Thank-you for reading.

The Realisation.

The hottest property in the sixties was Jaqueline Du Pre. Well, the hottest property in the world of classical music that is. Up to then, soloists were generally wrapped in the blanket of tradition and conformity. They would perform with the face of smugness born from a lifetime of adoration and sycophancy.

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Jaqueline was a cellist. After the emergence of Paul Tortelier as a soloist of flair and flamboyance, Du Pre brought a refreshing wave of youthful intensity. She was young , attractive and gifted.

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Along with her new husband, Daniel Barenboim she represented a new generation of dynamic performers ready to engage the young and smash the stoic grey sheen surrounding post-war classical music. She had enough competition. The Beatles were reaching incredible new heights in the world of popular music. There had also been a steady rise in easy listening. There was Mantovani, Manuel and his music of the mountains and Semprini. They were already icons of the middle of the road crew.

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Mantovani

 As a teenager learning the cello I couldn’t get enough of her. I scoured the radio and television listings hoping for a Du Pre fix. Then there was the shocking news; Jaqueline Du Pre could no longer play the cello. After a lifetime with the instrument she loved, she was no longer able to play it. It was the first time I’d heard of Multiple Sclerosis. On the radio, there were brief descriptions of what the illness did to people.

I took note. It sounded awful. You could think it but you couldn’t do it. It gave you disobedient lazy limbs. Why couldn’t they just do as they were told? I looked at my fingers. I moved them about in a sort of playing an instrument fashion. It was inconceivable. They were my bits. They did as I asked.

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Jaqueline Du Pre died in 1987. By that time, I had seen some signs. The first signs were gentle if rather puzzling. On a few occasions in the very early eighties, I noticed my tingling legs. It was nothing and I joked with myself that it was the first signs of Multiple Sclerosis. That is no joke. I distinctly remember walking home after a Sunday night at the King’s Arms in Seacombe. It was early spring and mild. I wore a reversible jacket with Lee jeans and Levi boots.

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It went through my mind. But I was still playing tennis and cycling everywhere. Then in May of 1983, a lot of my left-hand side felt numb and tingly. It didn’t last but my first reaction was to exercise more. I thought it was something to do with my over-indulgence. After all, I’d bought a car so I was less active. Then there was an incident in 1986. I was in Leicester for a football match. I’d had a skinful at lunch-time and I don’t really remember the game. What I do remember is feeling myself collapse and planting my chin into the bottom of a lamp-post. Ouch!

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The following year, I had developed a funny sort of spasm down my right-hand side. “It doesn’t make sense,” was the total sum of my GPs analysis. And there ends the first part of my journey into the abyss. Thank-you for reading.