Archives for the month of: October, 2011

Friday evening is so much more exciting than Saturday evening, because it’s the edge between work and play.

Gill calls: she and Carmen are getting off the train at Glynde – do I want to join them in the Trevor Arms? It’s a lovely evening, and I set off up Chapel Street (the hardest part of the walk for the computer-bowed). I gasp up to the Golf Club and onto the overgrown knoll to look over the town, back-lit by the sun, and then left along the path. It’s a golden evening, and I’m alone with the sheep, bleating piteously (the sheep, that is), and I descend down and across, past the dew pond towards Oxteddle Bottom.

Then through Caburn Bottom, and up the steep path onto the ridge that leads to the summit on the right. The paragliders hang like surprised eyes, and slide behind the edge of the hill fort. As I get to the ridge’s brow, the sun behind me makes me a hundred-foot shadow, and the fields to my right are salmon-pink. Then singing, shirt flapping, I’m clumping downhill towards Glynde, thinking of drinks in the Trevor Arms, and of this perfect Friday evening.


Opposite St Peter’s church, the occasional duo of silver angels or high-wigged drag queens squeeze between the tee-shirted spectators. There’s a real air of excitement: hawkers are pushing their trollies along the road before the procession comes, selling rainbow flags, lurid wigs, whistles, and big penis-balloons with stupid cartoon faces.

The parade seems to be led by a camera team walking backwards. They’re followed by isolated duos in big feathers and huge heels, and macho-looking men in vests and boots and shades. Then come the lorries, hung with banners, people leaning out, waving at us, blowing whistles, kissing, dancing. Disco anthems blare out as they pass, and the crowd shout, whoop and clap. A man runs into the road to be photographed with a near-naked bald man, red leather straps tight round his big belly, camouflage wings on his back. A tall black silver gladiator dances by; there’s a boy on stilts in little gold shorts, a halo over his head. An elderly man drives his parasoled disability buggy, with a sign: ‘I’m 88, I’m Gay, I’m in Love!’ Fifty years ago he risked blackmail and prosecution.

There’s a Tesco Pride Lorry, an American Express Pride lorry, a British Airways Pride lorry… the big names all want to be seen as supporters. Gay Tories march past, Labour Party supporters hand out stickers – ‘I never kissed a Tory’ – (actually I think I have), gay Christians, there’s Caroline Lucas on the Green Party lorry… Then there are fire engines and ambulances swagged in gay association banners, flanked by laughing, dancing workers.

Then the police walk by. The front ranks in uniform but without the stab-proofs: some look uncomfortable, some scan the windows above us, but many are smiling at the crowd. Behind them are more police, in a casual uniform, dancing and reaching out to the crowd: the Sussex Gay Police. I realise that there are tears on my cheeks. This is ‘one-ness’: this parade is not about sex – it’s about our common humanity.

I’ve been glooming since 6.30 this morning. Probably a bit hungover. I came downstairs and put the radio on for the latest in riots – I mean looting. Not much in London last night, but outbreaks in Manchester and Salford. Interviews with rioterlooters: ‘We get free stuff innit’ (how many interviews for that edited highlight?) Disturbing presence on the streets of vigilantes dressed in white shirts, supposedly ‘guarding our Enfield’. Racist thugs on the streets in South London.

Open A4 envelope from Abbey: pension currently expected at £2300 p.a. Can’t wait. Stare at window for 20 minutes.

To the Patisserie’s garden for coffee, and fiddle with logo ideas for a new client. The sun comes out. Loud male voice and two tiny voices: Ian and his children erupt into the back room. He reads them a story, with uninhibitedly dramatic expression: they squeal and ask questions and are full of life. Gloom gone.

In a fit of public spirits I stride to the footpath to cut back the brambles sticking out at eye height. I carry shears and a pair of seccateurs, both of which are almost completely blunt. I hack and slash and tear and pull and twist, and finally step back to survey my topiary skills (poor). It’s next day that I realise that the shoulder twinges I’m now suffering from are the result of my public spiritedness. The pains get worse throughout the day, and eventually I get an appointment with the osteopath; now I’m lying on my back in Alexander Technique mode, staring at the ceiling and trying to think ‘upward’. Three flies above me, at different heights. Flies making geometric shapes – they turn sharp corners. How do they know when to turn a corner? And what are they doing on the way?

I’m thinking of Rupert Murdoch, and the extraordinary news of the last few weeks. Each day has brought more revelations until one of the most powerful men on the planet faces the Commons committee, and plays the old dodderer card. Just a few weeks ago, I thought there was no stopping his determined undermining of democracy. Murdoch doesn’t tell us what to do – not at all. He just tells us what to think; if what we’re interested in is an easy read, easy opinions, celebrity, dirt on the powerful, then we’ve bought into his world-view. We gave him his power. How did we get like that?

Look at those flies up there…

Kyudo means the Way of the Bow, and it is said to be ‘synonymous with the pursuit of truth, goodness and beauty.’ Our friend Claude has gained the title of Kyoshi or teacher of Kyudo in Japan, and although we know nothing about this martial art, we go to Port Royal to see the students competing. He’s the President of the Kyudo association here, and has organised this event. He thinks it will be boring for us.

In a big Parisian sports hall, yellow blinds drawn, the Tannoy announcements have a repeat echo that make them even more incomprehensible to us. The floor is patterned with coloured geometry (I don’t go to sports halls very often, you can tell), and the students walk out in white shirts and long black divided skirts. I say walk, but they slide really, in a sort of slow march, on their white divided socks.

Hands on hips, their arrows out at an angle, they walk to position, kneel, bow to the target, and put their arrows on the floor. Standing in a line they put two arrows up to the bow, in opposite directions, and notch the one they will shoot. Looking at the target, the archer raises the bow over his or her head, slowly brings it down, and the bow bends into a beautiful curve, and after a few seconds the arrow is released and the bow spins in the archer’s hand. And of course there’s the thwack of the arrow hitting the target (or clatter if not). It’s totally mesmerising.

It’s Carmen’s surprise birthday treat, though it would help if we had some idea of the references in this show; most of the audience do, and respond with whoops. It’s a tale based on an Indian dance dynasty, from rural Rajasthan to Bollywood and back over several generations, of tradition and rejection, of the heroine’s ‘exile’ and reconciliation. But it’s really an excuse for skeins of shimmering silks and satins, spangles and sequins, pounding music – ‘ka-doong ka-doong-ka’ – ‘Shava Shava!’ And of course, great dancing and terrific choreography. There’s classical Indian temple dancing, Bollywood whirl, even a rock’n’roll sequence – and – ‘It’s The Time To Disco!’ (I love this).

Tthe action takes place rather overpowered by a digitised backdrop – huge glowing pixel blocks portraying fire, mountains, sky and so on; once again, the digital reduces the human element. But – the humans are great. At every opportunity, the male lead strips his top off, thrusting his rippling muscles at the audience, and I’m trying to read the Gothic-font tats on his bulging pecs – he has the most ridiculously muscular body! There’s a dancing jeep sequence and a troupe of glitter-encrusted bikers – it’s completely bonkers and fun: really kitsch, and great too. At the end, audience members are dancing in the aisles. We’ve brought Carmen to this, unknowing: we look at her for her verdict. “Interesting…” she says at length. (Was this a good birthday treat, then?)

Having suddenly got a taste for live performance after an epic Gershwin concert at the Albert Hall, my dad wonders whether I could accompany him to the Royal Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet. It’s at the O2. “What? the O2, as in rock concerts? the venue formerly known as the Millenium Dome?” The very one. I’m not really a stadium-goer, nor a classical ballet enthusiast, but I know what I like. Pina Bausch, but anyway… Nearly 90, he’s increasingly interested in the arts, but this is a new one on me.

Queueing for my pre-booked tickets in the windswept plaza, I call the wheelchair line, and soon dad is wheeled to meet me by a friendly young attendant. The tickets – a total of £11.25 for a disabled person and carer (yes, I do care) – seem remarkably good value. But our wheeler says she can upgrade us for a better view, and pushes us (him – I’m still walking) onto a balcony nearer the front. On the way she’s ordered me a coffee from another attendant, who brings it to my seat, and charges me: nothing.

It’s vast, the O2 Arena. Really vast. I’m sure there are clouds drifting through it. Whenever I’m in big indoor spaces I imagine myself, somehow, hanging from a little handle in the middle of the ceiling and looking down. Just to terrify myself. Coca-Cola, Sky, Nestlé and the other multi-national carnivores flash their digital messages around the arena till all the lights go down, and spotlights pick out the stage (still a few hundred feet away).

And here’s the problem really: the place is so huge, there are three big video screens above the stage. You know you should watch the stage – this is live performance; but it’s so easy and somehow, strangely natural, to watch the screen. It’s what many of us do all day long, and again in the evening. So I’m forcing myself to watch the stage, but glancing at the screens from time-to-time. It’s the war between two and three dimensions: shape versus space. The screen images are shot straight-on from the front, a viewpoint I like; on the stage is the real thing: life.

Of course, it’s beautifully-danced, and the dramatic Prokofiev is exquisitely played, and the sound is perfect. And, by the end, my hard old eye seems somehow moist. But on the way home, we’re talking about the woman who wheeled him all the way back to the bus stop, the guy who brought me coffee, the cheerful, well, service, of the people who work at the O2.

Monday evenings are jazz nights at the Snowdrop.

It’s a bit of a secret gem despite my best poster efforts. Terry Seabrook, the excellent jazz pianist, hosts it, with guest musicians each week. They’re top jazzers: tonight it’s Mark Bassey, trombone maestro, with Tristan Banks on drums. Terry’s on organ, his left hand a walking bassline. They swing hard from the start, punching out the tune of Cherokee, then chasing each other’s solos over the form. It’s riveting: a powerhouse trio, three top musicians, playing the Great American Songbook.

A young boy and his grandmother, absorbed, are at the next table, and a young woman on her partner’s lap cradles her pregnant belly. Mr Thompson joins us, quietly: John’s recording the gig on his Tascam and filming with his other hand. The one not holding his Harvey’s. Paul, Lewes’s famous IDM, comes in, attracted by the live sound; he dumps his gear and swings into his moves. And he’s a good dancer: it’s great to see jazz being danced to. He comes into his own on the band’s funky The Chicken, and the young couple smooch to Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.

The Snowdrop would be my local, if it wasn’t at the opposite end of town. But I don’t mind walking so far to see music of this quality. You jazzin’?

The sky is very blue, and the sea a lovely milky turquoise, glittering in the late May sun. I’m waiting for the Madeira Tower lift, topped with a peeled globe, dolphins and a scaly roof, and it’s taking me down into Concorde2, Brighton’s music venue on Madeira Drive.

I’ve been back in the UK for 24 hours, and I’m feeling fine after the flight from Tokyo. Nervous, though: tonight is Ska Toons’ Ska-Kestra gig. It’s our annual big-band gig, featuring at least twenty musicians, in the Brighton Festival. We soundcheck, and it sounds terrific out front. Then we adjourn for coffee and cake to the café on the beach.

There’s a big crowd queueing at the door, and an excited buzz backstage. Helen’s nervous as well, so we wind each other up, enjoying getting rather hysterical. DJ Amma has got the crowd sweating, and they roar as The Ska-Kestra troops on stage. The band kicks into our opener – ‘Garden of Love’ – with the fifteen horns punching out the tune.  And the crowd are dancing, and they don’t stop.

Finally, Helen and I are cheek-to-cheek, sharing one microphone, singing the rousing closer, All Of My Life, and dancing. Heaven.

The next day, of course, I feel groggy. And the next. And…