Saturday, 24 March 2012

Hopeland (Notes from Corsica) 18. Friends Applaud, the Comedy is Over

The island life had stirred my creative pot, culminating in a productive year that had seen a potent change in the way I thought and wrote. The resultant album ‘Hopeland’ had been bathed in optimism’s glow after the retreat to Corsica had gifted me clarity of thought and a sense of well being that was startling. I had previously written about the journey, but offered no answers, just questions. With ‘Hopeland’ I had actually arrived somewhere; destination achieved. I unpacked. I was home.
The plan was to stay, but my furrowed brow kept moving me forward, beyond the bliss. What followed was no drastic regression, just an unsettling feeling that those peaceful waters were about to be disturbed. At the end of a perfect day there is still darkness and the inevitable notion that the following dawn would bring disappointment. I was in full song yet full of clumsy contradiction, each thought subverted the previous one. Where I had previously danced serenely through my days I was now walking on hot coals; I wanted to draw lyrical breath but was invariably rendered breathless, dizzy and dumb by the savage, intoxicating beauty of the island.
Closer to home, anything that was fleetingly familiar was reduced to homily, which I paraded in songs and poems as freshly minted wisdom.
Did these words even qualify as poems?
I continued to put pen to paper, hoping that the chaos might be revealed as a series of telling moments; my aim was true, but my hands were shaking, grasping at shadows. I found myself reaching for things that were no longer there, or whose influence had become diminished.
There was a constant humming in my head.
Maybe I’d had one drink too many.
I actually sat and wrote these two ranting emails to my friends:

Rant 1

I seem to be disappearing by the day, weaker by the week.
The new year didn’t start well; I couldn’t shake off the bug that seems to have afflicted us all; couldn’t shake off the effects of the Xmas lubrications; something I’ve never had a problem with before, and my feet hurt so much that getting from bed to bog was becoming a major issue.
Di complaining about me waking up smelling like a ‘shitty brewery’ was a sure sign that something needed to change.
Having been off the booze for 3 days now I can confidently say that I feel absolutely no difference other than an ever present thirst and a newfound ability to say ‘Unique New York’ 3 times really fast, particularly after that third cup of (now sugarless) coffee.
In further steps towards betterment I’ve stopped taking sugar in my tea and started watching documentaries about animals and trees.
That should help me sleep.
I think I’m missing Corsica.
We haven’t been for a while.
It reminds me of quote from W. H. Murray:
“In short withdrawals from the world there is to be had unfailing refreshment. When his spirit is burdened or lightened, the natural movement of a man’s heart is to lift upward, and this is more readily done in the wild, for there it is easy to be still.”
Usually when I’m in a funk I can sit down with my guitar and create something, or simply play. I was now getting nothing from this; the canvas was blank with no lead in the pencil.
Step two of any revival is normally the taking of a bath.
Sitting in the suds I have the choice of reaching for Flaubert’s ‘A Sentimental Education’ or last month’s Esquire magazine.
I opt for an article on how to throw a tomahawk, throw a perfect 180 at darts and throw flaming Sambuca from my mouth. There’s a piece offering a five-day detox (“what can you achieve in 5 days? Even God only got as far as the birds and fish.”) I learn how to do a ‘McTwist’ on a surfboard, mix a perfect martini, dismantle an AK-47 and how to avoid capture behind enemy lines: “Lie on a north facing slope and keep still. This is very difficult. You will develop sores. You will nearly go crazy. And remember, you have to demoralize the dog-handler, not the dog.
I’m instructed on how to start a football chant (apparently if you are a Borussia Monchengladbach fan this involves not saying “Give us a ‘B’…”) and then move on to the eco-friendly wisdom that “recycled toilet paper’s like taking a cheese grater to a bullet hole”, before drifting off into a dumb, numb slumber.
I wake up in cold water; everything is shriveled and my magazine lies at the bottom of the tub. I can just about make out a piece on ‘Famous Last Words’. There’s Bogart’s “I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis” and Beethoven’s “Friends applaud, the comedy is over.
This gets me thinking about the possible benefits of ‘getting serious’ and the diminishing returns of ageing.
Is this really the best I’m ever going to feel again?
With this question in mind I resolve to enrich what remains of my life with genuine intent; there’ll be no more parading and postulating about court sprints and investment in World Music.
I need to do some real gardening; plant a thought and watch it grow, rather than just moving on to another lofty deliberation.
So, here goes: In endeavouring to prevent myself from weakening by the week I’m making some changes in an attempt to embroider that rich tapestry.
This week my attention is on:
-    a daily regime of (yes) press ups; 50 in the morning, 50 before bedtime. I’m wobbling at 25…
-    Continuing in the refining of my drinking career. Fridays and Saturdays only.
-    The serious study of the later music of Scott Walker, which has previously been as appealing to me as spinach, oysters and anal sex. I’m referring to ‘Climate of the Hunter’ ‘Tilt’ and ‘Drift’, in which Scott famously got his percussionist to punch a dead pig for rhythm and sang about the underworld and afterlife in a voice akin to Donald Duck.
I’ll keep you posted on my progress.
Any advice will, of course, be considered and ignored.
You could always try…
You might not recognize me at the bar, but if you do, be kind and don’t offer me a drink.
Baby steps, as they say.

Rant 2 (two days later I start regarding myself as some twisted Agony Aunt. A Sunday Times column surely beckoned…)

Somewhere south the weather’s warmer. I know that because the birds are leaving, flying towards greener grass, warmer climes, towards something better.
As obligation, duty and responsibility fracture our modern lives, it’s easy to overlook the core values of a happy life: spontaneity, joy and love. In trying to mend or heal this damage our senses get so bombarded and overloaded that we risk living in a cycle of hope, fear and regret, inevitably reaching for the comfort blanket of crap food and credit cards. This can keep the wheel of false hope spinning; we are always one new pair of shoes away from happiness.
Often we focus on work for fulfillment. ‘Career’ is a greedy monster that can feed on itself, a bigger job means a bigger car; ambition can be a stick that we beat ourselves with. Of course I’m not suggesting that work is bad, I’m saying; make it better, because, yes, you do deserve it. But how do we make things better? The answer is unique to all of us. I guess we could stop relying on others to fix things and trust ourselves to do it.
There are many comforts in modern life, but not too many freedoms. For me, life is about reclaiming the lost freedoms of childhood, where the possibilities were endless. Every civilization looks back to the ‘golden olden days’ where things were better because they were… simpler. There is investment to such nostalgia because the past is tried and tested. We can cherry pick the bits that worked and use them to improve our future.
Why not strive towards self-perfection, beauty, truth, and goodness. It may sound blithe but why not aim high? You’re a long time dead and, as we’re oft reminded, it’s a dangerous world; terrorists and muggers are everywhere. Do we really need protecting from our anxieties by invasive CCTV cameras and suffocating regulations? Has ‘Health and Safety’ stopped us from climbing trees?
Don’t be a passive receiver, don’t stare at screens. Stay off the underground, sit upstairs on the double-decker, look, and enjoy the ride. Better still cycle, it’s almost as dangerous as climbing a tree.
Act for yourself, accept that life is absurd and have a bit of a laugh:
-    Try dancing with a dog.
-    Put on ‘Goodbye to Love’ by the Carpenters really loud and play ‘air guitar’ to that solo. It’s one of the best ever. Seriously!
-    Stop consuming and start producing.
-    Play the office Ukulele.
-    Smell a horse then gently blow up its nose.
-    Try saying “Unique New York” 3 times fast!
Good cheer and good company is the stuff of life. Don’t be “too busy” to make things better. Address your creative spirit. Get practical. I know of a tuba player who learnt how to plaster. He now makes a happy living from both. Make stuff. Make things happen. Make some mistakes. Make some jam, bake bread, play the piano badly. Plant some bulbs. I did last year and forgot about them. The pleasure I got when the tulips came out this spring out was immeasurable. I fell to my knees and literally smelt the flowers, my flowers. Fight boredom, not with ‘leisure time’ but with life, vital life. Don’t reach out for comfort food, go for quality. Have a drink but make sure it’s a good vintage. Decide what your favorite whiskey is. Paul Newman famously said “why fool around with hamburger when you can have steak at home?” I know it’s out of context but, buy some steak.
Find something you’ve always wanted to do and do it. 
What’s stopping you? 
Fire those arrows of freedom, surf the waves of indifference, strum away the stress, run with the hounds of hubris and capture the moment in perfect digital clarity. 
Then, do it all again. 
It will become you.


  1. Put so perfectly... so let's get off our computers and practise what you preach.
    Though don't fancy blowing up a horses nose!

  2. I'll always remember reading "Weaker Week" thinking... there's a man not afraid to walk around with his fly open. Really made me larf.
    I didn't realize your inspirational 'Rev Trev' 2nd rant occured just 2 days later! Isn't that a bit bipolar?
    Just kidding, rave on anytime. Lots of wisdom and goofiness there!
    PS: But I agree wit Di, I ain't blowin' up no horse nose!

  3. Fly open? No worries, a dead bird can't fall out of its nest...
    Joking. I am, of course, rampant!
    'Rev Trev'?
    TT, I think that you've given me inspiration for the next set of Sunday blogs.
    Yup, I was all over the place at the time; a bit like the old codgers in the Muppet's balcony: "that was terrible, the worst thing I've ever seen, maybe not the worst, actually not bad, mmm pretty good in fact, in fact... that's the best thing I've ever seen".
    Poor Di had to live through it all...

  4. Church of the Poison Mind? I'll be there in the back pew doing my crossword and heckling the Rev...

  5. You're up late/early and active Tim.
    Hope all's well...
    No crosswords in my church; only polka dice, cards and a communal bottle of bourbon....
    Praise the Lord and... erm... God Bless You my son....

  6. You need some practice brother...
    Myrna doing better. She had pneumonia!
    Me, I'm in the midst of passing a fookin' kidney stone! I'm not kidding... Worst pain you can imagine!
    Next week has to be better...

    Tim (on the crapper)

  7. Always better.
    Sympathies about the stones; a work colleague has them and describes the eye watering daily trials in graphic detail...

  8. On climbing trees -
    By the way I love The Drift, difficult as bits of it are.

  9. Thanks Seamus; have since tried and enjoyed (I'm not sure 'liked') Drift; a challenging piece.
    I do like the 'Tree Climber' video, and watched a couple of Michael Kinirons' other videos, particularly 'Lowland Fell'. Does he do promo music videos (for the love of it) I wonder...

    1. Hi Trevor - if you email me @ seamus.duggan AT gmail dot com I'll send you Michael's email address. You never know if you don't ask.