Tuesday, September 19, 2017

"Somebody called me Sebastian"

Recently I heard the name Sebastian again, and on this occasion was transported back 40+ years to the 1970's - listening to a small radio under the bedsheets in the middle of the night so that others in the house wouldn't be disturbed, but also so that I could hear the amazing new sounds being beamed in! Coming from Radio Luxembourg or Radio Caroline perhaps? Radio Luxembourg broadcasting from mainland Europe, Radio Caroline from a ship rocking on the high seas. Beautiful songs, some maybe challenging. Songs that were getting longer! More expansive. Songs that were colourful, melodramatic. There was Traffic - 'The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys' - nearly 12 minutes long in it's original form on the self-titled album, Sparks - 'This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us', Jethro Tull - 'Locomotive Breath'. Terms like progressive rock, underground music, jazz-rock were coming in.

Then there was this really weird and wonderful one called 'Sebastian' by Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel. It probably helped that Radio Caroline would come through in waves, and with Radio Luxembourg possibly similarly. Eerie, in and out of poetic oddness, an odd song.
So now we have the internet. Hooray! Trawling YouTube there are two versions, among many by Steve and band, which are brilliant. First, a recording from 2011 in Oslo, Norway:
and the second, from the Isle of Wight Festival 2004:

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

I'm proud of Dad, unsung hero

My Dad, Alfred Gordon, would have been 100 this year. He died 13 years ago. I couldn't let this occasion go without saying something about him. It's customary now to list achievements and features - in his case I've placed these in two distinct groups - what he was and what he wanted to be, and what he was sucked into because of mad ideology. Of course, there was no need for the second group.   
Swimmer, family man, historian.         
Concentration camp survivor, refugee, rescuer of children from Nazi oppression, unsung hero.
Dad loved swimming. He went often, and encouraged family and friends. He used to say it helped to 'clear the cobwebs'. He was a very active member of the Bromley Town Swimming Club, that was based at Downham Swimming Pool in Lewisham, at the prior building. He was Secretary of the Club for a time, and later something like Life President. He was a very loving husband, and father. He worked hard, but it didn't get in the way of a cheeky sense of humour. He would watch the regular television programme 'All our yesterdays' which I only know now, was a historical account of the 1930's and the lead up to the Second World War and the war itself. I don't remember him talking about the war. He was interested in history beyond that, and for instance, liked the writings of the 18th/19th Century Scot Thomas Carlyle.    
He was born in Wuppertal, Germany, and when he was 17 in 1933, Hitler came to power. For millions this was literally the beginning of the end. Dad was taken prisoner to Dachau concentration camp, where as it was prior to the war, he survived. He worked with the Oxford Refugee Committee in England to rescue children in Germany from being killed. One such was his teenage girlfriend Lore. They had an enduring love and bond, and they worked together to help get children to safety - when Dad reached England first, Lore sent photos/names/details of children from Germany. Of course, they had both become refugees. Lore, who is my Mum, came to England with her younger sister on a Kindertransport (Children's Transport) train. Dad and Mum became British and he joined the army. A brother was murdered in Auschwitz in 1944. Dad was part of the Belsen concentration camp liberation force in 1945 - he evidently said to my Mum of that experience 'I had read and seen a lot before I went there, but nothing prepared me for that'. 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Strange man on a train (Dziwak w pociągu)

Two years ago there was a man on a train getting hot and bothered just because some people were speaking a foreign language. He wanted to be 'put out' - seems he had nothing better to do. He could have read a book or a paper, looked out of the window, listened to some music, done some real work or some knitting, done the crossword, played eye spy, played Patience. There's a whole heap he could have done. No he didn't want to. He could have seen how many words he could have made from the word 'Ignorant'. I know the route he took very well - Charing Cross, London Bridge, New Cross etc. I had travelled that way for decades, to work and for other reasons. There are people travelling on the trains - conversing with one another as they do - end of story. 

As the EU referendum campaigns stretched ever more frenzied and painful, I started to have recurring nightmares about the strange man on a train. Then around 3am or similar, 24 June, the ex-Business Secretary, Sir Vince Cable was on Radio 4 saying that Leave had won the vote. Surely not. How could a sensible country make what seemed to be an insular and backward decision. I went through the stages that I've heard many go through too - shock, dismay, horror, and an overwhelming feeling of being diminished. It wasn't a case of sour grapes, I had already thought before the vote that the decision to hold a referendum was both foolish and callous. A set of complex issues to be reduced to a simple in/out referendum. 
Then in the days following the Brexit vote, I was still trying to assimilate, and I wondered again about the strange man. He clearly felt isolated when he heard a foreign language - so why didn't he go and learn a foreign language himself?
Then I thought 'what have I done about the referendum?' Well I did speak to people before, and posted and shared on facebook - all in my small way. What should I do now? I'll learn a European foreign language! So I booked a course at the Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge. I'm not a Sixth former! My route is via Adult Education - Polish Beginners Level 1. The course notes say you need not have any prior knowledge of Polish - so I qualify perfectly! It runs from September to November. 
I thought that was it, but there was an interesting twist. It turns out that the Sixth Form College was once the Cambridgeshire High School for Boys, where Roger Waters and Syd Barrett (of the band Pink Floyd) went to school. From an article in The Wall Street Journal (updated 21 September 2015) about writing 'Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2' Roger Waters said:
"The words and music were written as I strummed on a six-string acoustic guitar. The song flowed straight out of me in a minute and a half. It only had a single verse and a chorus. On the demo, I accompanied myself. (Mr. Waters sings the rhythmic acoustic guitar introduction and then the lyrics, “We don’t need no education / We don’t need no thought control.”)
The lyrics were a reaction to my time at the Cambridgeshire High School for Boys in 1955, when I was 12. Some of the teachers there were locked into the idea that young boys needed to be controlled with sarcasm and the exercising of brute force to subjugate us to their will. That was their idea of education."
Well, I hope it's not like that for me at the Sixth Form College! I'll be singing 'Nie potrzebujemy edukacji' as I go in and out of class - well maybe a bit later in the course.
Always good to have a cue for a song, and I didn't know I was going to get one out of this story.
Thanks to Kaja for the Polish!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Diss, Norfolk

This lake in Diss is called Diss Mere.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Bi-Polar Disorder (Manic Depression) - Part 2 - Diagnosis

In 1997 I found myself in a Priory Hospital (I've also had numerous NHS admissions, and been treated at home). But for many years since 1981 (when my 2nd child was stillborn) I was thought to have depression and treated as such. In 1997 however, I was in the Priory, and the psychiatrist thought differently. Now luckily, I made handwritten notes, trying to discover what was wrong with me. Notes were the sort of thing I would do, but the Hospital also encouraged me to write them. I still have those notes. They started off completely bizarre. There were a number of conspiracy theories that I had, some about the people in the Hospital. I had lists of people who were involved, and those that weren't. People moved over from the good side, to the bad side or vice versa. I had little pictures - often very childlike ... and so on. I was unwell! The notes were scrappy and fragmented.
From the notes: admitted to Hospital 4/8/97, psychiatrist told me I needed Lithium and that night 12/8/97, first blood test scheduled for 18/8/97 to see if Lithium in therapeutic range, writing of notes becomes practically normal - like a normal journal/diary 19/8/97, I said to psychiatrist that "I felt well" 20/8/97, discharge from Hospital 10/9/97. The Hospital said that I might get tempted to throw the notes away when I felt better, but they strongly advised against this. They said it was better to have them as a reminder of how bad I had been!
Key dates - had probably started being unwell since May 1997, Lithium first 12/8/97, 'feeling well'  20/8/97. Just 8 days to have my life turned around thanks to Lithium but also various people along the way, but specifically my wife who got me to the Priory, and the psychiatrist who first treated me with Lithium. I didn't stop having episodes by any means, but I had the main building block to deal with the condition. It must be remembered that Lithium will not stabilize on its own - exercise, diet, balancing the meds, etc. all play their part.
Further posts to follow eventually.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

I've got a nasty habit

It started to happen in 2011, I think. I'd been having trouble with something like heartburn, or so I thought. It was occurring too often, and it was worse than heartburn. I went to the doctor, although he wasn't my usual doctor. He was young, and he didn't really seem to know what the problem was ... then he hit on it - it was my heart! He seemed to panic, and arranged for an ambulance to take me to hospital asap. Tests in the ambulance seemed fine.

I then spent the night in hospital having tests. Everything seemed fine except at some point - days/weeks later there was a question of 'a shadow on my lung'. Scare 2.

About now, the nasty habit began. What music would I have for the funeral?! Obviously it's important to get your affairs in order, but is music for the occasion important? Well it is, and then again it isn't. I was going to think of all sorts of music, but wait a minute: this isn't Desert Island Discs, it's not a show. And again this is an aspect of the habit - choosing a song or songs, then dismissing them on the basis that no-one else will like them. For a while I was thinking of David Bowie - Blackout (from "Heroes") but very few would like that, and is it 'appropriate' anyway. No, not really. I do know of a funeral where a playlist from that person's computer files was played at the beginning - I think that's a neat idea. That's what they liked.

Scare 2 wasn't a shadow on the lung. Then soon after there was Scare 3 - can't even remember what it was. Must think of the music for my funeral. Of course, then the argument goes: I'd like this/nobody will like it/And I won't be around anyway to hear it, so what's the point.

But still, I must revise my list. The basic habit remains: as soon as I hear a song I like, I think 'ah, that would be good for my funeral'. It's a nasty habit because it has almost become an automatic response to hearing that likeable song.

Current puzzle is - which version. Warren Zevon doing 'Mohammed's Radio' (original version) or Piano demo, or by The Matthew Show. The Matthew Show has some really good drumming at the beginning and some great alternating sound but ...

Bob Dylan - 'Ring Them Bells', or Natasha Bedingfield, or for that matter by Heart. A Christian song - is that a bit confusing? I'm an atheist. It's still a good song, and I wasn't an atheist when I first heard it ... doesn't matter - the quality of the song overrides the mind games. I've just been swayed by a version by a young singer from Texas called Sarah Jarosz - she plays mandolin, guitar etc. and is quite brilliant.

And so it goes on. Each song is soon to be stricken from the (non-existing) list, to make way for another, and then maybe reinstated.

I know somebody who has one song on her list. She heard it at a friend's funeral, and for years and years, that's the one. No change of mind for her.

Just listening to a Warren Zevon cover, by Tom Flannery, of 'Boom Boom Mancini' about boxing. Will that be the one? They won't like it.


Saturday, January 24, 2015


Last April I was on a walk along the Fen Rivers Way. I started from Bottisham Lock and travelled north on the east bank, in the ultimate direction of King's Lynn. I didn't get that far as it got dark, and looked as if it would rain. Turned off right to Swaffham Bulbeck. I didn't have a map with me, and relied on the signposts for the places and distances. I had never heard of Swaffham Bulbeck. I enjoyed the walk and eventually found myself in a village - not Swaffham Bulbeck but Swaffham Prior. 
Past the pub slightly on the right, on to the church. I took a couple of photos but it was still overcast. Backtracked, went sort of clockwise round the town, and found there was a path up the town, that lead to the right - marked as going to 2 churches. Well I suppose some places do have two churches, that's quite common. Went along the path that was above gardens that ran to the back of their houses. Several were attractive gardens. And then there was a church - well actually two maybe. But they weren't in different parts of the village, they were together in the same churchyard not more than about 20-30 yards apart. Weird.
I went first to the church you can see on the right in the photo. This is the Church of St. Cyriac & St. Julitta. It's a 'redundant church'. Not a term I'd come across before, and it's maintained by The Churches Conservation Trust. This is a view inside. As you can see, from this angle anyway, there is little inside. There's a crucifix, but there's little else religious, or much at all anyway. I found it really serene. You could pray if you wanted, or spend some time there. It's an airy space, with the historical building surrounding you.

I then went down a path to the other church, St. Mary, and entered. I got a very different impression here, and particularly in juxtaposition with St. Cyriac. This seemed like a museum piece - a relic, even though this is the current functioning church, it just seemed really odd. Now maybe this is the time to say where I am presently with religion. I have a judaeo-christian background, and then when I was about 55 years old (5 years ago) after spending a lifetime puzzling over it all, I became an atheist. My son Jake said it was my epiphany - which it was, but it's a funny word for me because of course it's religious! But becoming an atheist was a relief, as I didn't have worry what God was up to, as he doesn't exist. We're here purely because of evolution. 
Back to the story of St. Mary. It probably makes sense to the congregation, and I wouldn't want to interfere with their beliefs. There are some excellent stained-glass windows, one of which is here;-

The church sells a booklet 'Swaffham-Two-Churches' (which was £2 last year) about the history of the churches, which you might find useful. Evidently Swaffham Prior is not the only place where two churches were built in one churchyard. In Reepham in Norfolk there were three in one churchyard, but I understand only two exist now, and the remains of the third.
A final note about the top photo with the two churches. The two churches (particularly St. Mary on the left) appear to lean in! This is an optical illusion. Certainly last April they were perfectly horizontal. I'm glad to say that it's not just my photography, as I've seen a photo on another website, taken from a very similar position, and it happens in just the same way.