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Friday 29th December 2006. 10 : 00 pm
BILL NELSON DIARY ENTRY: FRIDAY 29 DECEMBER 2006.
2006 almost gone...and Christmas gone in the blink of an eye.
I spent the week before Christmas in a stressed-out panic, trying to make sure that everything and everyone was taken care of, presents bought, cards sent, plenty of food in the larder, enough wine to host a Bacchanalian revel, the usual Yuletide madness that, no matter how carefully I try to plan ahead, always ends up being a last minute scamble. And for what? Christmas melts away faster than the fabled snow that never arrives. Eat, drink, fall asleep on the sofa and it's gone.
I did manage to get my son and daughter their main requested gifts: A Korg AX 3000 G guitar effects processor for Elliot and a Line 6 DL4 Delay modeller for Elle. A few fun stocking fillers were purchased to round things out for them. I also bought gifts for my eldest daughter Julia and my grandson Luke but their plan to travel from their home in London to spend Christmas or New Year in Yorkshire has been changed at the last minute. I'll hold on to everything until they manage to get up here.
For Emi, I bought mostly clothes and lingerie. Many men would not naturally relish the choosing of, (and shopping for,) clothes for their wives but for me it's an absolutely delightful and creative task. I'm pretty much dependable when it comes to finding items for Emi...nothing to do with fashion, (which, the more confident one becomes, the more one should ignore.) It's more about elegance and style rather than high street trends. (Or, at least that's the plan.) I'm quite prepared to spend as much time as necessary to track down something that little bit special and I know instinctively when I've found the right thing. Emi, flatteringly, trusts my taste, even though her own is sophisticated and finely honed. Luckily, from past experience, it's very rare that I get it wrong.
This Christmas, she loved everything I bought and all of it fits her perfectly. Of course, I do get the added benefit of a private fashion show as she tries each garment on!
Emi bought me a new watch for my collection, a hand knitted fisherman's hat from Whitby, a hand-knitted scarf in lemon, grey and black from the same town, a book dealing with the history of British comics, a facsimilie edition of a 1939 Dandy annual, a bottle of 'Aqua Di Parma' cologne, (one of my favourite fragrances,) and several other bits and pieces.
We've been together for 13 years now, (and known each other longer,) yet I still can't believe my good fortune. How an unsophisticated kid from a council estate in Yorkshire ended up living with such a lovely treasure is not only a mystery to me but a continuing miracle. Wakefield and Tokyo...for much of our lives we were half a world apart but, somehow, fate brought us together. I could never have predicted such an exotic future when I was a young man.
On Christmas Eve, we both went to the arthouse cinema in the centre of town and watched a special screening of Frank Capra's 'It's A Wonderful Life.' This involved a pre-film buffet with mulled wine which we were allowed take into the cinema with us. It was a full house and Emi and I had to sit apart from each other as only single seating arrangements were left. The mulled wine I'd happily consumed caused a few drowsy moments during the film but I responded to the story's sentimental ending with the customary tear-damp eyes. A pleasant way to spend Christmas Eve, nevertheless.
On Christmas Day, we were both invited to join our friends, Steve and Julia, for the traditional feast at their house just down the lane from ours. They've been kind enough to let us share their festive family gathering for several years now and the Christmas meal is always a delight. Julia has a genuine talent for cooking and entertaining and all our taste buds were given a tremendous treat. A terrific meal and excellent company.
During the woozy, boozy afternoon, Julia's mother, Julia's husband Steve and myself initiated a joyful, spontaneous jam session in the music room. Steve on drums, Julia's mum on piano and myself on guitar. Great fun. I'd never actually played 'Begin The Beguine' before but I managed to figure it out as we went along, my D' Angelico New Yorker plugged into one of Steve and Julia's children's amplifiers. It almost sounded as if we'd rehearsed it. Julia's mother is a fine pianist and Steve used to play drums in a band before his business began to occupy so much of his time. I think he'd like to play more often if circumstances allowed.
After much wine was consumed and gifts exchanged, Emi and I rolled home to spend the rest of the evening crashed out on the sofa, watching a DVD of Ken Russel's evocative tv dramatisation of British composer Edward Elgar's life. Christmas lights twinkled merrily in the corners of the room, rows of greetings cards lined the low wooden ceiling beams, candles flickered in etched crystal jars as the Elgar dramatisation unfolded, enhancing my mood of fireside melancholy. Strains of 'Nimrod' conjuring a lost England of dreams. A kind of wrapped-in-cotton-wool-cloudy blissfulness enveloped the two of us. Wonderful...
Christmas suits this place. Our home looks even more warm and colourful than usual with all the seasonal decorations. Took me quite a while to get everything organised but the end result was worth it. Reminds me of the childhood Christmases I shared with my brother Ian when we once-upon-a-time believed in Santa Claus, back in the 1950's when we lived at 28 Conistone Crescent, Eastmoor Estate, on the edge of Wakefield. Our parents always went to great trouble to ensure that it was a magical time for us.
Even though we were a working class family living in a council flat, Christmas Day morning always brought wonders. The front room was miraculously transformed into an indoor toy shop window, overflowing with endless delights: Meccano sets, Dinky Toys, Hornby train sets, Scalextric sets, Eagle, Beano, Beezer and Topper annuals, gaily decorated paintboxes, coloured 'Lakeland' pencils in wooden boxes, magician's outfits, cowboy hats and cap-guns in holsters, Airfix, Revell and Monogram model kits...all displayed with great visual skill on the living room carpet beneath the half-bay art-deco framed window. My brother Ian and I, awake early and eager, would kneel in front of this shining bounty, still in our red 'Ladybird' brand dressing gowns. We would carefully look at each gift in turn as our parents observed our mounting excitement. And all around us, the garlands, balloons, lights and other Christmas decorations, whilst not nearly as high-tech or elaborate as today's fare, shone with the most evocative colour schemes and shapes, so very much of their time.
Those long distant years are vividly etched in memory. Sometimes it feels as if I only need to move a few inches to my left and I'll be back there again, as if I'd stepped through a thin veil of time, a doorway to way back when. There's a lyric in an old Simon and Garfunkel song, (called, I think, 'Photograph.') The lyric says: "preserve your memories, they're all that's left you..." Sentimental nonsense? Well, yes and no...
Here in the present, the future rushes towards us at such an unforgiving pace that it's no surprise that we sometimes regard the past as offering us a nebulous, peaceful haven, a moment's respite from the harsh pressures of the now. Yet this tendency to wallow in nostalgia is as much a curse as a blessing. I'm certainly not immune to its seductive charms...and not nearly as brave and present in the here and now as I ought to be. For all my criticism of those who perpetually yearn for the return of their golden years, I still, when cold winds blow, furtively seek sanctuary in the warm candle-lit corridors of memory.
If I stand back and attempt some kind of objectivity, I see that this might indicate a somewhat contradictory creature, and, if truth were told, a confused, headlight dazzled one too. On the surface, it doesn't quite add up.
How can someone who savours the likes of Coltrane, Partch, Faure, Milhaud, Feldman (and so on,) find simple pleasure in the light, inconsequential music that was once broadcast by 'Uncle Mac' on the 'Children's Favourites' BBC radio programmes of the '50's? I mean, come on...'The Big Rock Candy Mountain?' 'The Runaway Train?' 'Inchworm?' 'Teddy Bear's Picnic?' 'Sparky And His Magic Piano?' For goodness sake! Why should that be? Where lurks the critical faculty when I allow myself such indulgences?
How can a bookworm who delights in the literary pleasures of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs, who has pondered the mystical writings of Jacob Bohme, the occult speculations of A.O. Spare, the Zen musings of Suzuki, the sexo-political theories of Reich, etc, etc...how can THIS man still have an appetite for the adventures of Dan Dare, Jack Flash, Jimmy And His Magic Patch, General Jumbo, Marvelman, and all the other fanciful denizens of the British children's comics of the post-war years?
How too, can I become absorbed in and inspired by the films of Jean Cocteau, Orson Wells, Maya Deren, Fritz Lang, Kenneth Anger, Harry Smith, Jack Smith and dozens of others of their luminous ilk and yet...STILL shed a pathetic tear at the conclusion of 'It's A Wonderful Life?' Or watch a complilation video of the Morcambe and Wise Christmas shows? Makes no sense...Then again, maybe to a perceptive psychologist, it does.)
Perhaps it's not so complicated, maybe I simply want it ALL, to reach out and grasp as much as possible, to embrace everything, to pull it all together and put it all into some sort of context.
What context would that be? Why, that of my own mysterious, unfathomable existence of course! I'm simply looking for myself amongst all the glittering rubble, the gilded ruins of my life. I'm made up of all this conflicting material, these myriad, random assemblies of STUFF...and yet, like everyone else, I'm ultimately, essentially, separate from these things. I simply curate them, contain them like a museum. A museum that I sometimes haunt like a ghost.
I often worry unduly about this paradoxical mess of seminal potage, at other times I simply ignore it and go with the flow. Cultural barriers can too easily be imposed from without...far too many people taking their cues from the media, cherry picking their art passions for effect, a desperate attempt to impress those whom they perceive as their peers. (If not that, then at least to convince themselves of their own 'good' taste.)
Such barriers are also imposed from within, errected out of a kind of fear of the unknown, a fear of appearing 'different', a fear of being an outsider trapped within a uniform society. But surely this should be seen as an outmoded attitude nowadays? Haven't we gone beyond such limitations? Or are we returning to a more rigid, dogmatic, conservative ethos?
The attitude of many who seek some kind of artistic perspective, is that there is no such thing as 'low' culture or 'high' culture. It's all one continuous ribbon: just CULTURE. Class structures, privelege and wealth are redundant, irrelevant. Anything and everything can be considered as cultural grist-to-the-mill. Everything is up for grabs, inspirational, intrinsically valuable. The modern creative soul knows no bounds and little shame.
Such a wide-open attitude goes way beyond post-modernism, beyond irony, beyond 'art' even. It's an ongoing, evolutional revelation, the timeless ticking of the human dream machine. Even the most mundane of moments is seen to contain a wealth of meaning and personal resonance. Perhaps the entire universe is available for transformation. Everything we are capable of comprehending is potentially transcendent. But how many people realise this and grasp that potential?
For many of us, it's impossible to ignore the constant cynicism that permeates our society. The cynicism that screams at us from the pages of newspapers, from the media in general, from the streets. It's so ingrained nowadays that we often take it as the norm, a given condition of contemporary life.
Nor is it breaking news that a deep undercurrent of despair runs beneath all the rabid consumerism, the jostling for status and position, the cults of celebrity, the empty aspirations of middle class society, the transparent manipulations of our political puppet masters. Pointless to point the finger, we're all implicated and involved, both as individuals and as a collective society, whether we realise it or not.
At the risk of adding even more cynicism to the equation, I'll say this: Christmas definitely shines a harsh light on our vain attempts to chase after an illusory, fragmentary happiness. It's right there in front of our eyes. Just take a moment to look around...
There was little of what might once have been called Christmas cheer in the streets those last few days before the shops finally closed their doors. Instead there were stern, even angry faces, people pushing their way through the crowds in wild-eyed desperation, gangs of youths in ugly shell suits, screaming abuse at each other, drunken gaggles of tinsel-wreathed girls spillinng beer into their ample Wonderbra cleavages....scenes of cheap, tacky debauchery that reminded me of the apocalyptic visions of Hogarth and Bosch. The annual siege mentality. A feverish desperation expressed in overflowing shopping bags and whispered curses. And this in a city that prides itself as one of England's finest. Lovely...
Actually, I have to admit that it fascinates me in an appalling way. I stand back and look at it as if I'm visiting from another world and yet I'm as inextricably woven into its chaotic fabric as anyone else. The act of observation and the reporting of it here only adds to the vulgar, nauseous effect. Nevertheless...you can't deny folks their jollies, especially at this time of year.
Maybe I'm just a decadent old snob but I do prefer my odd moments of debauchery to include some sort of redeeming aesthetic, a sensual dandyism, if you will: a finely turned ankle in an elegant, subtly fetishistic shoe, a sweet bosom nestled in intricate black French lace, a moment of delicate, aching beauty prolonged to the point of religious ecstasy.
Is there some kind of musky, velvety, suburban elitism at play here? Well, yes, quite possibly. Or at least there would be, given half the chance.
But then, I also see myself as an old romantic who enjoys a tender kiss, a hint of perfume and the gleam of starlight to accompany his behind-the-gasworks fumblings. (No surprise this as I was a young romantic too, once upon a time. Check out those early Be Bop Deluxe songs for the damning evidence.) However, whether it's a sign of a failing libido or just plain old repulsion, lardy women exhibiting their spotty backsides whilst stooping to recover their clip-on reindeer's antlers outside Yates' Wine Lodge don't do a damned thing for me, I'm sorry to admit. Merry Christmas, girls...and make the most of it.
No matter how hard we try to surround ourselves with seasonal symbols, how much we spend in the high street, how much we eat or drink, there's something terminally unfulfilling and empty at the end of it all. Our neighbour, Archbishop John Sentamu, (yes, he's a local lad for the moment, at least until Cantebury calls,) would probably say the same thing, but he would also, inevitably, add the Christian message of salvation as the solution.
Archbishop Sentamu is, from all I've read about him, a good man and a fine example to us all, (he even wonders through the village without ecclesiastical entourage, dressed in rather sharp fashionable clothes,) but, God forgive me, Christianity, or at least the Church that claims its custody, seems somehow insufficient to the complexity of the modern malaise. Faith alone is never enough. 'Be ye as little children...' but beware strangers bearing toys. It's a wicked world and peace, love and understanding is under constant threat.
Perhaps the new thing, the best hope for our society, is an internal reprogramming, an adjustment of values, a total re-alignment of our expectations. Maybe it's time for our contemporary mean-spirited cynicism to be abandoned in favour of an open-hearted optimism, a warm and generous positivity. A sunnier disposition if you like.
I could add: "yeah, and pigs will fly..." but then, that would be my own lazy cynicism rearing its ugly head. Maybe its not asking too much at all, perhaps such a fundamental, simple attitude shift would separate the winners from the losers...or transform the losers into winners. The new optimists, the yea-sayers, the 'inclusionists', the positivists, the all-embracers, perhaps this is what we must become if the future is to be saved from the ravages of the present. Knowledge, of self, first and foremost, then the glorious by-product: universal understanding and compassion. Lost keys to a bright tomorrow?
But I'm drifting way off course here. As I usually do.
I'll return to my reporting of the seasonal day to day...
On Boxing Day my mother, her husband George, his daughter Jennifer, (who is visiting from Australia where she lives,) Elle and Elliot, all came to our house for a tasty buffet Emi had prepared. George has given me, as a Christmas gift, an old accordian of his. It's a beautiful object in its own right, before I even begin to play it. Which I can't at the moment, but I'll keep trying.
(My old friend Roger Eno would coax a grand shanty out of it, as would the lovely Kate St. John...Accordioneers both.)
Elliot gave me a boxed set of DVDs archiving the old American television Superman series from the '50's. (The live action ones, not the Fleischer cartoons.) For my birthday, a week earlier, he'd bought me another DVD set containing the entire series of 'Supercar', an early Gerry Anderson produced creation. Elliot is aquainted with my inner child and knows how to indulge it.
Elle bought me some cosmetic things, (as girls do,) plus a beautifully scented candle and a set of Jean Cocteau fridge magnets which she bought in Paris. It seems that Cocteau has become a modern day product, just like his pal Picasso. 'Art, Empire, Industry' as I once sang, thirty years ago now.
On Wednesday, we went to visit my sister-in-law Diane in Wakefield. It is her first Christmas without my brother Ian and I can only imagine how she must feel. Ian's passing has overshadowed all our enjoyments this Christmas. It's been impossible to deal with the seasonal demands without feeling a deep sadness at his absence. We all miss him so much.
Ian's headstone was finally erected, just before the Christmas weekend, eight or nine months after his passing. Emi and I drove to Wakefield cemetary on the day before Christmas Eve to view the memorial stone in situ. It was dark, cold and wet when we got there but we were able to drive Emi's car into the cemetary and park it with its headlights illuminating the grave. I have to admit that, whilst the headstone has been much anticipated, the sight of it provoked a dark anguish. It somehow underlined the awful finality of the situation.
Emi and I placed fresh flowers in the vases that have been built into the headstone. Ian's name stood out in silver letters, carved as much into the cold night as the grey marble.
Every time I visit the cemetary, I struggle to grasp the enormity of the loss. It's still hard to believe that I won't be able to share a joke with him again, or recall together a memory of our happy childhood. Then, for an awful moment, the truth hits and hits brutally hard. It is always going to be tough, painful and sad, no matter how many years pass. There's absolutely no way around that. This thing will never completely settle. I just hope that our love for him counts for something, if only for love itself.
Today, Emi had to go to work at the flower shop, (as she did yesterday.) And my car won't start. A completely flat battery. I've caught a cold and haven't had the energy to sort the problem out. Feeling lethargic and unenthusiastic. A slump, a low, a kind of despair. Perhaps it's nothing more than post-Christmas depression. I'm not sure even if I care.
The two protype Nelsonic Transitone guitars were returned to the Cambell American company a few weeks back. A recent conversation with Dean Campbell informed me that I should be receiving my proper, finished production model soon. The official limited edition production orders should start rolling in a two or three weeks time, all being well.
Now the slow ramp to the new year, the gradual shifting of gears, the dread of things to come. Optimism needed now, more than ever. Such is life. Roll on spring, yellow flowers and pink blossoms. At this very moment though, wind and hail cracks on the skylight night of my lamplit studio.
The images attached to this diary entry are as follows:-
1 : A belated Dreamsville Xmas card.
2: A photo of Bill and Emi's Xmas tree.
3: A photo of the 2 Nelsonic protype guitars on Bill's sofa.
Friday 8th December 2006. 10 : 00 pm
BILL NELSON. DIARY ENTRY: FRIDAY 8th DECEMBER 2006. EVENING.
In ten days time, it will be my fifty-eighth birthday. I've planned nothing by way of celebration so far. If I'm to have an evening out with friends, I should get it organised quickly. I tend to overlook the fact that, at this time of year, restaurants are booked solid with office Christmas parties and the like. I invariably leave my traditional birthday dinner decision too late, then end up having to accept fourth or fifth choice of dining establishment possibilities. Predictably though at this stage of the game, birthdays don't have quite the same frisson of excitement that they had when I was a youngster, so perhaps that accounts for a certain amount of laxness on my part. That and the fear of actually becoming another year closer to the unholy number SIXTY.
Emiko has been ill for most of this week. She was laid low by what the doctor diagnosed as a stomach virus. A 'lot of it going about', apparently. She was in too much pain to go to work on Tuesday though she had little option on Wednesday because of two freelance contracts that she's duty bound to deal with.
I did what I could to help, driving and carrying things.
Thursday she was feeling a little better but still suffering from stomach pain intermittently and feeling weak. It was a busy day for both of us though, for several reasons.
Thursday the 7th of December marked the 30th anniversary of my father's death. I drove over to Wakefield to pick my mother up from her home and together we drove out to the crematorium at Kettlethorpe to take some flowers. There's a tiny chapel of sorts in the crematorium gardens, a little red brick building houses a large, semi-ornate 'Book Of Rememberance.' It is opened at the appropriate date of each day of each month, where the names of people who passed away on that date are recorded by hand in red and black gothic script with the year of their death next to their name.
The wind was blowing hard, cold and wet as my mother and I entered the little building and looked down into the glass display case that contained the book. Two thirds of the way down the left hand page, my father's name, in the aforementioned immaculate gothic script:, appeared: 'Walter Nelson, 7th December 1976.'
We stood side by side, looking at the page in silence for a few seconds, almost as if the thirty year old ink might magically conjure my father's presence into the room. Then we talked fondly and wryly about him, noted the name of the only other person in the book who had died on the 7th of December 1976 and eventually, reluctantly, made our way outside to the rear of the building where a small, lean-to greenhouse-like annexe stood. It held rows of wall mounted zinc vases where flowers could be left as a memorial to loved ones.
We took the wrapping paper from two bunches of white and yellow flowers we'd bought from Morrison's supermarket, just down the road from my mother's house, and placed them into two empty vases, halfway up the inside wall, opposite the outer, glassed wall. The second bunch was in rememberance of my grandmother, Ethel Griffiths, who had passed away a few years before my father.
My mother opened her handbag and produced two messages that she had written on two nondescript pieces of lined notepaper. The messages were from herself and me, written in her neat and tidy old-school handwriting, a handwriting that puts mine to shame. One message was for my father and one for my grandmother. She sighed and noted that this was the very first time that the messages had not included the name of my brother Ian next to my mother's signature and mine.
We attached the pieces of paper to the zinc vases with a few elastic bands that my mother had also thoughtfully brought with her and adjusted the blooms so that they looked as attractive as we could possibly manage without Emi being there to add her professional flair. Then we wrapped up the stem ends that we'd trimmed from the greenery and stood back to see the finished effect, simultaneously scanning the surrounding vases, all with their own notes attached, messages from loving wives, husbands, sons and daughters. Each vase contained a life story of one kind or another, a life lost but not forgotten, expressed in faded flowers and a few inky words on damp paper.
On a bottom row, next to one particular vase, was a small, soft-toy teddy bear which had fallen on its side. My mother bent down to straighten it up and glanced at the card that was attached to it. From where I was standing, I could just make out the words, 'to my Daddy.'
The rain beat down hard on the glass roof of the little greenhouse, driven by the cold wind that whistled in the eaves and under the door. We went outside and walked across to the main entrance path and to the spot where the local council authorities had cast my father's ashes, thirty years previous.
My mother told me that she had once made enquiries, of the crematorium staff, about where this act had taken place and one official had looked it up in the book of records and then paced out the location for my mother. She led me over to it, an area just by the side of the stone-flagged path at the crematorium end.
We stood now, in the rain, looking at this ambiguous patch of grass, vainly trying to materialise my father from the long dissolved powder of his remains.
I wanted to talk to him, to tell him about my life, to tell him about Emiko, to ask him hundreds of questions that I was too young and self-engrossed to ask when he was alive.
Then, my mother and I sought the shelter of my car before driving away from the crematorium, passing the Kettlethorpe council estate and, just a few yards down from the crematorium, on the right-hand side of the road, the Kettlethorpe Youth Club building, the latter hardly changed since the 'sixties.
As we drove, my mother recalled a time, in my early teens, when I was out playing somewhere in Wakefield, with an amateur band I was involved in. Apparently, whilst I was out , a 'phone call came in to my parent's house, asking if the band could do another gig, later that same night, over at Kettlethorpe Youth Club.
My father, who sometimes acted as manager for these early bands of mine, hopped in his car and drove to the gig in Wakefield to tell us about the request. The Wakefield gig must have been an early evening thing as my mother tells me that, afterwards, we packed up our gear and then went on to the Kettlethorpe Youth Club to play the second gig.
I only vaguely recall this twin-booking windfall but I DO remember one thing from the Kettlethorpe Youth Club gig and it is this: there was an open plan style staircase in the central entrance of the youth club, a very 'sixties styled thing, quite modern then but maybe archaically so now. On these stairs I encountered and chatted with a very pretty girl. I can half see her face as I type these words. Can't recall her name though...but she had a softness about her, a calmness. She possesed none of the common, vulgar presence that so many girls seemed to exude back then but had something deeper, gentler, quite lovely, refined even.
I was very much taken by her and it seemed, from her warm smile and the inviting twinkle in her eye, that she felt the same about me. But I was relatively shy, lacked confidence and didn't make enough of an attempt to fan this tiny spark of mutual recognition into something bigger. We chatted, flirted and vanished into our respective futures.
But I've never forgotten that encounter, one of those instances that actually happen far more frequently than we surmise. A situation where paths cross, where someone, out of the blue, connects with us in a profound way. Maybe you could call it a soul encounter, a precious, fleeting moment lost in time but forever remembered and cherished. Damn! What WAS her name?
Back to Thursday: From Kettlethorpe, my mother and I then drove to Wakefield Cemetary where we cleaned out one of the glass vases on my brother Ian's grave and filled it with our third bunch of flowers. The wind was almost as cold as the terrible day when we watched his casket being lowered into the ground in April of this year. I miss him profoundly, much, much more than he would ever have expected.
My mother, unsurprisingly, is still devastated, permanently wounded despite her outer attempts at stoicism. Ian's memorial headstone is not quite ready yet, so his grave is marked only by the metal framework that outlines the word 'DAD,' a remnant of a floral tribute from his three children that Emi prepared for Ian's funeral. No flowers on it now, of course, just the weather beaten frame but, until the headstone is errected, it is the only object, other than three glass vases and some rain washed cards, that identifies his resting place. Mum and I agreed that it is time the headstone was in place. And it will be soon, I hope.
We stood there in the cold rain, gazing down at the earth where Ian rests, thinking about how much we loved and miss him and how we wished we could have saved him from such a premature fate.
It suddenly struck me that, as a very young boy, I used to accompany my mother to Wakefield Cemetary in the 1950's to put flowers on the graves of my great grandmother and great grandfather. I would play amongst the gravestones with a toy balsa wood glider, (bought by my mother from a model shop then located at the bottom of Kirkgate,) whilst my mother attended to the cleaning of vases and the changing of flowers. All those long years ago.
And now, here are the two of us, mother in her late seventies, me rapidly approaching sixty, placing flowers on my own brother's grave in that very same cemetary. Neither of us expected, back in those early, carefree 1950's, that this would be our future sorrow.. No wonder it was raining.
I drove my mother to her home where her husband George was waiting, then set off for York.
Emi had gone to work at the flower shop that morning, her stomach bug better than it had been but still not vanquished. She'd already booked the afternoon off as we'd had an invitation to attend a special event at Castle Howard, just north of York. (For those of my diary readers unfamiliar with the place, it was used as one of the chief locations in the tv series 'Brideshead Revisited.')
Earlier in the year, we'd signed up for an annual pass to Castle Howard. We visit there at regular intervals anyway and both of us adore the house and its glorious surroundings. One of the benefits of being a pass-card holder is that we get invited to special events, many of them not available to the general public. Today we were to be allowed into the house itself to view the Howard family's Christmas decorations followed by a brass band recital, mince pies, mulled wine and a torchlit parade. Normally, the house is closed to the public in winter as the public wing of it is reclaimed by the Howard family for their Christmas entertaining.
It was a new experience for Emi and I to walk through the grounds of the house in winter. Normally, we're there during the spring or summer months when the atmosphere is quite different. But, to my delight, it is equally beguiling with a grey windy sky and naked trees..
The interior of the house, when we entered and made our way through its marble statued corridors to the great hall, looked absolutely otherworldly. It was, by now, completely dark outside and the house was lit by hundreds of thick candles set on silver reflective trays, their glow flickering across the ancient carved marble bodies and heads of Greek and Roman gods and godesses, some of them amusingly (and sometimes daringly,) hung with festive tinsel and glass baubles. In the great hall, a log fire was blazing and opposite it stood a truly enormous Christmas tree, festooned by the Howards with their personal family decorations.
And there were impressive Christmas trees throughout the entire house, each one beautifully trimmed and gleaming. Not Disney-like, not twee...but transcendent. It was as if the entire building had been alchemically transformed into a fairytale palace, achingly gorgeous, filled with rare treasures. Choral music filled the air as if angels were hidden in the high corners of each magnificent room. I have to say that, despite being generally cynical about these things, I was transported, utterly enchanted.
We slowly made our way through the huge house, eventually ending up in the Howard family's private chapel, a tiny jewel of Pre-Raphaelite splendour. For many years, I've dreamed of creating a site-specific piece of music for this chapel. Now, on a candle-lit evening in early winter, I was seized by a stronger conviction than ever that this is something I must try to achieve before it becomes too late.
I resolved to write to Simon Howard in person, to see what the possibilities for such a thing might be.
It would involve a live instrumental performance from myself but with the possibility of some kind of vocal dimension being incorporated. (My good friend Harold Budd has suggested to me that a vocal work of a non-pop/rock nature might be worth my consideration. And he's right, of course.)
I would also like to incorporate a small string section as part of the composition, though this may require more funding than may be available to me. It's nothing but pure idea now though...so much to be resolved before it would have a chance of being realised as an actual performance. But something to work towards, next year. Let me see if I can outline my tdeas in a letter to Mr. Howard. He may find the proposal of no interest. Then again...
After leaving the chapel, we gathered around yet another gaily lit Christmas tree, this time outside on the north face of the house, where a brass band played carols and the invited guests were treated to mince pies and mulled wine.The Howards walked around, checking that everyone was enjoying the evening. Far away behind and slightly below us, one of Castle Howard's lakes gleamed in the December darkness while two white swans, faintly visible in the gloom, glided silently on its glassy surface.
Then the torchlight parade from the house, through the grounds, to the stable courtyard where a Father Christmas Grotto had been set up for the children.
All in all, a lovely, relaxing, memorable evening.
Then Emi and I drove to Leeds. This was to pick up some items that Emi needed from the flower market which was opening unusually late that evening. Once the car was loaded with these items, we then set off to the village of Ledsham for a cosy dinner for two in the ancient 'Chequers' inn, one of our favourite haunts.
Two glasses of wine and a plate of mussels later, I sat back in the passenger seat as Emi was drove us home to spend the rest of the evening snuggled up together on the sofa in front of the television. A hectic day but one that made us realise how blessed we were.
By direct contrast, I came across some really sad bickering amongst a tiny handful of fans on my website forum, fuelled by some deliberately vindictive postings elsewhere. I'm regularly amazed by how steamed up over absolutely nothing some people get. Certain troubled souls seem use either me or my work as a pitiful excuse to vent their own inner demons on the world at large.Terribly flattering, in a way, but completely self-defeating in the long run. It's doomed to failure and serves no positive purpose. If nothing else it confirms my thoughts about the whole silly business of being fantasied over as a 'rock star' or whatever role I fulfill in some people's lives these days.
That a few isolated fans feel the need to so intensely focus their energy on the minutae of my existence is not so much a mystery as a tradgedy. But ever since I've had a career in music, I've been forced to deal with some rather odd people, a tiny minority of them seriously troubled. But then again, I'm not alone in this. Virtually every other musician of my aquaintance has suffered the same experience at some point or other... and my management have often warned me about allowing certain people get too close. Maybe this kind of problem goes with the job, although I wish it didn't.
I'm far too gullible, and I suppose I find it hard to say "no" to people.
The number of times my instincts have warned me to stay clear of someone or other, yet I've gone ahead and trusted them, only to be betrayed later. You'd think I'd have learned my lesson by now. My own fault, no doubt.
On the other hand, I'm definitely blessed with a great number of loyal, genuine, sensible, calm and respectful fans of whom I'm proud. They reflect the care and thought that goes into the music and are wonderful ambassadors for my work. They are a joy to meet and are respectful of my privacy when I need it.
It's just that there have always been a few, let's just say, 'over-enthusiastic' ones, teetering, some people have suggested, on the edge of being psychopathically unbalanced. It seems that they just don't know where the boundary lies and end up regarding their heroes as personal property, always a recipe for disaster, in my experience.
The crazy thing is, the more I try to disillusion them, to lift the scales from their eyes, the more they obsess and cling to their manias. I become a kind of life-raft for them, vehemently attacked because they've mistakenly come to depend upon me and my work for the propping up of their own sense of self. Ego, resentment, jealousy, there's evidence that all these things enter into the equation. As someone with a longtime interest in what makes people tick, I find this sort of phenomena immensely interesting. A social psychiatrist, I suspect, would have an absolute field day.
It's sad but, a certain amount of personal provocation does get aimed in my direction, and in the direction of sincere, well-balanced fans too. Maybe it stems from a latent masochistic streak or something, perhaps these people are desperate to get me to hurl insults at them. Whatever the psychology, it seems I fulfill a very powerful role in their lives. Which, as you might expect, freaks me out no end. It's not something I set out to achieve, quite the opposite.
But, ultimately, who cares? It's only pop music. And it's only in pop music that this sort of rubbish happens. In that respect, it's quite common and utterly banal.
Christmas shopping in Harrogate on Saturday. The annual Charles Rennie Macintosh Society festive gathering on Sunday. (Films, tea and sandwiches.) My music parked until next week when I need to knuckle down to some serious work before Christmas takes over my attentions completely.
I must complete the adaptation of 'Dreamland Illuminated', (the Memory Codex soundtrack,) that I intend to make the centrepiece of a new album. I'm adding some extra instrumentation to parts of the almost 40 minute piece to make it work as a 'stand-alone' composition. This album will gather together various odds and ends that haven't found a home on recent albums. In some ways it will work in the manner of the Nelsonica convention specials.
The album will have the title 'Gleaming Without Lights.'
I also have a new project to work on: I've been invited to remake / remodel a track of my choosing from Mitchell Froom's first solo album, an invitation which I consider to be both an honour and a challenge.
Then there's the Be Bop Decca Sessions album to mix and assemble. It's called ' Tomorrow The World.' I intend to add radio interviews and some 'official' bootleg live recordings to the package too.
Then there's the EMI box set to consider with Mark Powell who is putting it all together. Plus update work on Paul sutton-Reeves 'Music In Dreamland' book.
Somewhere amongst all that, I have to fit in Christmas and family duties. Not quite the usual holiday time then...or is it? Nothing at all to complain about, though. I love every ticking minute!