Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Of Practising And The Fear Principle

I'm feeling virtuous.  After about three and a half hours of practice today my fingers are sore, but everything else feels grand.  It is so easy to get out of the habit of regular practising and personal rehearsal.  All it takes is a change to whatever passes for routine, but today I had decided there was to be no excuse.  Even my broken e-mail didn't deter me.  I try to do at least an hour a day and I have achieved that for several days - necessary if I am going to be able to do any kind of extended practice.  An hour a day keeps me ticking over.  If I miss one day though, there appears, as if from nowhere, a list of tasks the following day to allow me no time at all.  Also a number of ideas for new songs or other compositions will strike and need to be committed to some format or other to be picked up when I have the time to work on them.  Before I know it a week has gone by and even, on occasion, two weeks.  This is very unprofessional.  Picking up the rehearsal and practice routine after a hiatus is really difficult and takes determination.  For a start, it takes no time at all for my sixty year-old joints to protest over the lack of use.  They need the exercise daily in order to function.  My fingers start to soften and this doesn't only have the effect of making my fingers stiff and sore once I start to play again, but it actually changes the sound of the guitar strings.  I need the use of large and small muscles in my legs to play my footdrums too.  Again a lay-off means picking it up again is tiring.  My feet won't do what they are supposed to do.  We all know that the voice also needs regular work.

I'm playing on Thursday, that's two days from now.  My set is going to be eight minutes long.  I have been invited to play a spot in Dan Donovan's pre-album-launch gig at The Angles Theatre bar in Wisbech.  I feel honoured and somewhat under pressure.  Dan is an excellent performer and his new acoustic arrangements for this, his twelfth, cd are rather good.  He has also invited some other local musicians to play too.  They are all accomplished singers/songwriters/performers.  I don't want to let Dan down.  So, I am really looking forward to playing in Dan's show alongside Tommy Loose, Neil Cousin and Road Hog (who has just returned from several days' gigging in Belgium and Germany - so he'll be ready for sure).

Next month I get to play the same venue ... but next time it will be my evening.  What a privilege to be asked to play for 90-120 minutes.  That will be my longest ever solo gig.  I am seriously looking forward to it.  I don't think I shall be singing either "Grey" or "Flying" this week, but maybe next month they will both be ready.

I'm told that amateurs practise until they get it right while professionals practise until they can't get it wrong.  It would be very cool to be able to get through a performance without experiencing a single blip in my memory.  Tomorrow I am running five workshops in schools during the day and have a drum workshop in the evening.  Not much time for practice tomorrow, but today I feel virtuous.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Of Living In Two Places

I've just got back from France.  To do that I had to get a bus into Switzerland.  Then a train from the city centre to l'Aéroport de Genève.  Then an aeroplane back to the UK, a bus to the rail station nearest the airport, a train a couple of stops along the line and then the walk to where I left my van so I could drive back to the boat.  The journey usually takes about ten hours.  Once or twice I have done it door-to-door in seven, but not often.  France is where P lives and works.  He was born there, works there and has always lived there apart from a few months in the USA when he was a child.  I have done this return journey at least once a month since about 2003.  That's how long we have been together.  This is not just a long-term relationship, but also a long-distance one of many hundreds of miles.

P 'n' Me in Geneva - August 2015
I have heard people say that LDRs don't last.  Ours has lasted until now and I don't see that changing any time soon.  There are challenges to overcome, but these are not life-threatening or frightening.  Any problems I perceive are of course merely relative to the general good fortune I experience in my life.  They do, however, take on more significance in the context of an ongoing relationship. For example, I have had to come to terms with often being in the wrong country at the wrong time.   When in France I have often missed events happening in England.  When in England I have missed things going on in France or Switzerland.  When P has a bad day at work I can't just give him a hug until he feels able to face the world again.  When I need a hug I often have to make do with internet relay chat or the occasional telephone call.  I noticed a couple of days ago that his new laptop computer has Skype.  I am waiting until he manages to sort out an account and we'll be able to speak and "see" each other more often.  That is still not a hug though, or being there to help when his back is playing up and making walking (or sitting or lying down) impossible.  We have to hope that our bodies are in good order when we plan to be together.  We don't have the luxury that regular couples have to be able to ride out times of illness or injury.  Two weeks ago when I was with him, so was my cold sore.  This week it was his back problem that has plagued him recently.  The only way he has been able to sleep has been to sit up with legs outstretched on the sofa.  As the week went by he got to a stage where he managed to share the bed for an hour or two.  Then he was forced to get up (very slowly and still painfully) to try to get comfortable on the sofa so he could get some sleep.  I missed reaching out to hold his hand or listen to his breathing in the night.  I can see why many long-distance relationships don't make it.  I don't know if ours is special, but P is special.  That's good enough for me.  He makes it all worthwhile.  As I said, small stuff.  We are at least free to pursue a relationship.

Why don't we just move in together?  It is a question I think about a lot.  If I chose to do that, he would be delighted and would have me move in tomorrow.  Sometimes I wonder if I am averse to commitment. Perhaps I am, but I think my relationship record suggests otherwise.  I still struggle with the French language.  I know I would have to cope if I lived there all the time though I daresay it would only take me a few months to be able to hold conversations with people at a normal pace.  It probably doesn't help that clever P is so bilingual that friends and family in England who have met him only know he is French because that is what I have told them.  He is even cleverer than that.  When we invite friends for a meal he naturally falls into conversing with them in their native language as long as it happens to be French, English, Spanish, German, Dutch, Italian, Russian or Mandarin.  I suspect he would also make a reasonable go of speaking in Norwegian, Hungarian, Portuguese, Greek or Turkish.  Strangely he doesn't speak Breton or even our local dialect, Savoyard.  To be honest it is too easy for me to get by when he is around.  When I am there we talk in English and when he is out at work I don't go out.  I stay in and work on my writing, my compositions or, this week, updating my websites.

Les Cerises
I have been making the journey to what is in practical terms a French suburb of Geneva for so long that I have seen many changes.  Mostly it is the demolition of lovely old houses and green spaces to make way for more blocks of flats.  I don't know what they'll look like in ten, twenty, thirty years' time, but I suspect  they will not look any better than they do know, or specially how they looked before.  For the first few years I went there the area in this photograph was an orchard of cherry trees.  There was a public footpath through it that became extremely muddy when it rained.  It was our route through to the supermarket or to the station.  Walking through the orchard at night it was a place to stop under the trees to kiss and to confess our love to each other.  These days it is not a place for doing that at any time of day.  Despite changes in the law it is still too risky.  Our cherry orchard has become a street filled with apartment blocks known as Les Cerises - an acknowledgement to its past.  They've even put a bus route through it.  Ah, progress!  There is also a plan to extend and re-route the railway so that it runs from Thonon (the town next to Evian, from whence cometh the water - point of order, Thonon has its own brand of mineral water that tastes the same, coming from the same source, but is cheaper) through to Geneva Airport and provide a continuous shuttle service.  That will make the journey even easier than it has already become.  Work has been going on for a while on that infrastructure project and it will probably be up and running within the next five years.

Despite a perception of the UK becoming a more challenging and polarised place in which to live there is still much to like about it.  I love living on a narrowboat.  I love where I am presently moored.  I enjoy the work I do and the members of my various bands are in the area.  I also love being able to see family members.  I am lucky to have amazing friends.  I love being able to offer a refuge to P when he comes to England.  He also loves visiting and staying on the boat.  I love that he thinks it is cool.

Seriously, compare the views out of our respective kitchen windows.  Which would you rather have? Here?  Or there?

Of Making New Friends

Last week I went to find a field in the Peak District National Park.  Although I have passed through parts of the area many times in the past I had never actually gone specifically to the Peaks before and I had never met any of the people with whom I was anticipating spending a couple of days.  I suppose I take a similar chance when I go to a festival, concert, show, film, play, dance, meeting, conference or whatever on my own, but meeting people by chance at a specifically organised event is different from a very much smaller and more informal gathering.  At an event there are many distractions.  There is always a focus for being there.  For me a festival is mostly about the music, of course.  However a gathering with no organised entertainment or distraction is different.  What if I said something that caused me to be ostracised from the group?  What if I found someone in the group difficult to be with?  What if I had misread completely, what the group is about?

This gathering was a very twenty-first century phenomenon.  We were all subscribers to a particular website and that was pretty much all we had in common.  Many of the members live nomadically.  Some were even in the Beanfield in 1985.  I found the website when I was facing homelessness after my father died and when I was desperately looking for options.  One option was was to buy a van big enough to convert to be able to live in.  That was why I bought a Mercedes Sprinter.  Unfortunately this is the same vehicle I wrote off two years later.  By then, of course, I was very happily living on my boat.

Having just returned from visiting P in The Alps I hadn't had much time to do what needed to be done before I disappeared away from the boat again.  Naturally, the web-based tasks and sorting out e-mails for coming work projects took longer than I hoped.  Consequently I was much later leaving than I planned.  I had already decided that, following my recent camping experience when the boat was being re-blacked, I didn't want to find myself having to cook in the rain again, or even to be sitting without at least an option of shelter.  The option of being confined to my three-person tent or the van was a bit constricting so, since my favourite camping equipment warehouse was vaguely on the way I thought I would call in to see what my options might be.  I just hoped they were still open when I got there.  They were and I found what they seemed to call an "event shelter" (but which most people these days would call a "gazebo"), which seemed to be just the thing.  It was big enough to sit in, cook in and should I ever need to do it, hold a small workshop or outdoor performance in.  It also fitted into quite a small bag and its long side ran pretty much the length of my van.

Of course, by the time I made it to the far side of Ashbourne evening was drawing in.  This was the view that met me as I approached the field.

A view looking out from our gathering site

All is well, there is a river.

I pulled into the field and headed for the fire set in an old satellite dish suspended by heavy chains from an iron tripod.  There were fewer than a dozen vehicles set up around the edges of the camping field.  The field was bordered on one side by the road and on another by the river marking part of the  county boundary between Derbyshire and Staffordshire.  I was greeted very warmly by everyone.  We identified ourselves using our nicknames from the forum, which made life a little easier to begin with.    We shared real names soon afterwards.

After I had ambled round the field meeting everyone else I found a spot to park the van and set about putting up my new shelter.  I thought it would fit nicely next to one of the side doors allowing me to tumble out of the van in the morning into a dry spot whatever the weather was doing. Of course, having ignored the fundamental rule about never arriving at a campsite with a tent one has never before personally erected I became the entertainment until a couple of kind souls took pity on me and came over to help.  I hope, though, that the next time I erect my new shelter I shall do it in daylight and be able to manage by myself.  We'll see.

Our tribal gathering in August 2015 with my new shelter on the left

Even during the time I was there people came and people went.  We were all travellers passing in and out of each other's lives.  What also became increasingly interesting was a reaction of other people who drove by the site.  The road that passed the site wasn't busy, but nearly all passing vehicles slowed down as the occupants wanted to stare at the motley gathering of vehicles and people in our group.  To honest I think everyone was impressed by this lovely vehicle belonging to "MrsP".  It was as lovely on the inside as on the outside.  I didn't take this photograph (it comes from her own blog, to which I have linked on the right-hand column), nor even was this shot taken at our gathering, but this Mercedes van is a lovely piece of work.

Over the next couple of days I got to know a bit about people who until then had simply been nicknames on a web forum focussed on alternative ways of living - Wandering Gypsy, Firetree, Enigma Rising and Alice's Wonderland were some of the delightful people I met.  I have stumbled into a new group of friends that feels like a family.  Round the campfire I shared a few songs with them.  Strangely, "Circumcision" seems to be the song that people are remembering the most at the moment.  I didn't conceive it to be like that and it shows that we may not always be the best judges of our own work.  I was somewhat in awe also with the practical knowledge many of my new friends seem to have.  Many are able and experienced engineers, carpenters, plumbers - tradespeople possessing all sorts of useful practical skills.  Many had bought and completely fitted out their vehicles and adapted them for full-time living.  The group had booked the site for about ten days.  I was able to be there for three days only and when the time came that I had to leave I put off my departure by finding people with whom to have one last mardle.

Everyone was so friendly, so caring, had so much life experience and many had very sad tales of personal challenge to relate.  I am really looking forward to meeting them again and I am sure I shall see some of them before we get round, once more, to booking a field in the middle of nowhere.