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And now I’m (not RIGHT now you understand otherwise I couldn’t be typing this or even see) lying in bed with my watermelon pattern eyemask on and earphones plugged in in a rather sensorily deprived and yet enhanced state listening to

The Beatles – Please Please Me
Fontella Bass – Bad Boy
Jazz Jamaica All Stars – Ball of Fire
Claire Martin – Black Coffee
Matty Eeles with Ska Toons – Love Alone
Love – Alone Again Or
Christian McBride Trio – Tones For Joan’s Bones
Hoagy Carmichael – Georgia

When you have time and space to listen to the music, especially on headphones, you can choose how to listen: you can hear the song, the overall sound – you get the feel, the warmth, the fullness and the memories too.

Or you can pick it apart – listen to the bass line, swap to the guitar on the right channel, the nasal edge of John Lennon’s lead voice, his harmony vocal – this is the more detached approach, but very rewarding, the Hammond organ swoops after Clare Martin’s voice, both thrilling. Christian McBride’s slithering bass skitters, his solo punctuated by little piano flurries. The detail in each recording!

And I think – this stuff – music,  in our headphones – transports us, takes us out, beyond… It, of course, separates and divides us from others (in the street, tube, bus) but connects us directly to the human essence: the breath rising from a human throat and the brush of lips on the microphone…

But then you know all this. And I’m high as a kite.

A favourite book: Revolution In The Head by Ian MacDonald. He writes about every Beatles track (and much more), commenting, pointing up features, drawing your attention to fluffs as well as well as the brilliances. Spend a few weeks with the book, the records, the headphones. Preferably not in hospital.




Well, OK – the Co-Codamol tablets were just to get me through rehearsals; they’re not a solution. Colitis is a chronic (longterm) condition that can flare totally randomly, so, when it does, you have to hit it with steroids. And the Preds I’d been taking were not working fast enough for my liking; so, after the last rehearsal of the week (and I’d got back into my clothes) it was straight into hospital for me.

A bit of waiting in A&E (fortunately early evening before the alcohol and drug and random-violence victims) then into Acute Med – 6 beds – two of them double and reinforced for seriously morbidly obese patients (nb. I am not one.)

Curtains drawn back on my left – Ron’s sitting in the chair.  Speaking slowly he tells me how he fell in the garden on his way to get the Flymo. He couldn’t get up and lay there for sixteen hours – in the garden, overnight. ‘It didn’t rain’. Happened before. Lives alone. Couldn’t get up.

(I’m tempted to say sweet) Loretta the nurse – full on, total attention almost to everyone at the same time, upbeat, dynamic, funny. A whirlwind of great, caring energy.  Mike the nurse – tattooed bearded South Londoner, shock of upstanding hair, very friendly. We talk books briefly, and films at the Duke Of York’s.

Max has a ring tone that is a screaming horror thing that you really don’t want to hear in a hospital…


The drugs are working: a breakfast of Asacol, Prednisolone and Co-Codamol. Consequently I’m here, on the big stage of Brighton’s Dome Concert Hall, built by the Prince Regent in 1805: otherwise I’d be languishing in bed feeling miserable. Overhead are the huge scalloped cut-outs of the circular layered ceiling – the place is gorgeous but not fancy Art Deco – with modern lighting gantries hanging (though unlit now). Facing me are 1700 empty seats, but we won’t be performing here – we’ll be in the black-box Studio theatre next door. Jason, our rehearsals director, and now – at last! – our choreographer, is working up a new dance piece – contemporary dance, dance-theatre, ‘modern’ dance, some calls it. The women rule this one. We men (5 of us) scuttle around, hiding behind the 13 female bodies, till we’re revealed, snaking geometrically round the stage, heads down. We don’t know where this is going, yet…

What I do know is that I have to rush around onstage, trying to get attention, becoming increasingly desperate, until, humiliated, I strip down and stand alone in my underpants…




P1060276 2Lascaux is the most famous of France’s painted caves. It was discovered in 1940 by teenagers out with their dog Robot, who fell down a hole. (The dog was fine). Since 1963 it has been closed to the public; the cave system had been enlarged to make it accessible to the public, but the paintings began to deteriorate after a ventilation system was installed and through sheer weight of visitors. So they made an exact replica, Lascaux 2, down to half a centimetre, they say. They dug out a new cave and installed a shell with the contours of the original, then reproduced the paintings on the walls, beautifully. Although you know it’s a fake, it’s a stunning experience (not to mention their achievement). I dawdle at the back of the group, quickly sketching the huge bulls horses and ibexes, but I can’t do it justice.

Back at the house I make a cave painting on the terrace using charcoal and mud, fuelled by Leffe and vin de Noix. It’s rubbish.

See the Lascaux website at


The old farm where we are staying in the Dordogne has been carefully converted. The big open living-room and kitchen used to be a hay barn; the tobacco-drying room is now our spacious bedroom. The massive oak beams, wood-pegged, are still all visible, but with insulating chestnut planks between them. Outside, on the terrace, we look over a landscape of oak, chestnut and elegant scots pines, as we eat our evening meal and watch the sun go down. No sound, except the birds. Idyllic.

In the roof eves, when they were working on this place, they found a gun. Not an old shotgun or hunting rifle. An automatic pistol. When I was very young, I was rather keen on guns: unhealthily so, I think now. My uncle had a Nazi officer’s Walther automatic he’d acquired in the war – I never knew how. No bullets (fortunately), but as a kid I’d play with it when I went over to his house. (Eventually he dropped it in the canal I believe). But this gun: you’d think it was a toy gun cast out of a single piece of metal. It’s not though, it’s just rusted solid. It’s the size of a starting pistol, but it’s probably a .22 calibre (or the European equivalent), and the magazine is missing. I hold it in my hand, and it fits snugly (but rustily). That’s the point about guns: they’re designed ergonomically – they feel just right. Fit for purpose. It makes me feel queasy to hold it.

I’ve just finished reading a rather clever novel – ‘The Caves of Perigord’ – by Martin Walker. It intertwines three stories: A modern-day search for a missing Cro-Magnon cave painting; a story of those painters, 15,000 years ago; and how that painting came to be found, as the French Resistance fought the Nazi invaders in this area. I hold the rusty little pistol in my hand again. I understand why you might hide a gun in the eves, in Perigord, many years ago.



 market belves2

The smell of rotisserie chicken, and loud bad pop music greet me as I turn the corner into the mediaeval town square of Belves, in Perigord. Stalls are set up all outside the covered centre. Almost next to Sophie’s bread stall is a very old woman selling plums and pigeons.maxcafe

The mediaeval towns of Perigord have beautiful open squares. Under the worn sandstone arches are the antique shops selling expensive crockery, cutlery, lamps, prints and bad paintings. We settle for a rosé at a café table in the sun. Max complains that my drawing makes him look like a thug… but he is wearing a vest.




max&gillWe lie on the bank of the Dordogne, Gill and Max snoozing. I try to draw the shallow, fast-running water (thinking of Leonardo’s sketches, but, well…)





A big thumb pressing down on my nose and I can see the straight-edge blade coming towards my mouth. I am confident of this man but not of myself. I assume a tacit responsibility for not moving a muscle lest we have a Chien Andalou situation. My face is thick with cooling white stuff, badger-brushed on. How did I get here? Well, by a Christmas gift voucher for the Luxury Wet Shave and train, tube and a walk through Trafalgar Square to the Pall Mall Barbers (est. 1896) – ‘ A mixture of oak panels, ceramic basins and open blades’.

Adrian – thickblackbearded, and not the gorgeous Erin (‘voted the best female barber in Europe’ – blimey) I’d hoped for, makes friendly chat as he prepares. Are you in town for the day? – (how did he know? did he notice the mud on my country gaiters?) – and he makes the best responses he can to my nervous streamofconsciousness about visiting art galleries, and flicks his eyes to the window each time a woman passes.

So: he starts on the face with the cut-throat. Short strokes with the grain of the beard (yes, I’d not shaved for three days – thought I’d make it worthwhile), I can hear the rasp, but there’s no tugging or snagging – it’s actually pleasant. Music playing – an extended two-minor-chord funk groove with incantatory voice over – surely James Brown about to launch into It’s A Man’s World? I can only talk when Adrian takes the razor off my face – it’s for best. Then he wipes off the remaining foam, and relathers, and shaves against the grain (two shaves then!) No nicks cuts pain of course. He wraps my face in a freezing wet towel for a while, then moisturises and aftershaves me. I breathe out, and float, cleansed but closed-pored, into the London street.


I have the feeling that I’m at his fur-covered shoulder: him, Thomas Cromwell. Henry VIII’s right-hand, and best executive officer. For the last two weeks I have been living in the pages of Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winners, and the characters are real people to the reader. I’ve found a book of drawings by Hans Holbein – Drawings from Windsor Castle. Cromwell isn’t in here, but Thomas More is, and his father, son, daughter-in-law; Jane Seymour; Thomas Wyatt, Cromwell’s friend; William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton, and Thomas Boleyn, Anne’s father, who likes to be called ‘Monseigneur’. And ‘A Lady, Unknown’, above whose head is lettered, ‘Anna Bollein Queen’. They’re exquisite drawings, beautifully rendered, intended for transferring onto board for commissioned portraits – you can see the pin-holes in the outlines where dust or chalk would have been pressed through. But the faces are alive: real people.

I go to the National Portrait Gallery, in search of Thomas Cromwell – and here he is, in a painting by Holbein, looking suspicious. Henry, too, massive, small eyes in a slab of face. Anne Boleyn, and a beautiful painting of Mary – ‘Bloody’ Mary. But the drawings in my book – (‘Awarded to Michael Munday for Good Work, June 1958’) – are more alive than the formal paintings, exquisite shading and modelling of faces, and rough but lively marks for the clothes.

There’s a drawing session at 6.30: artist Marc Woodhead and his assistants pass round paper and boards, now in the Stuart galleries, to about 40 of us – all ages, varying abilities, but all keen. The task: draw the people around you, in the context of the gallery. People drawing each other, watched by the dead from their frames. The more you look, the more alive they become…


Illustration of Cromwell after Holbein, and drawing in the NPG


It’s the heat of high summer on my neck, and buzzing, seething sounds. Snuffling, grunting, scratching sounds. Smells too. This pig is much bigger than I thought, and hairier – I think of pigs as pink and rubbery, not being a country person – and now, here I am, squeezing through the gate. The huge sow waddles up to me on her little dainty feet, eyes completely hidden by drooping ears. A bristly wetness on my bare leg, tickling, as she investigates the intruder. Not really interested, though, it’s so hot. She roots around in the weeds for a it, then retires into the shade of her sty, flops down. Carla has already eaten the cap off Emily’s tube of paint, and she’s got a bright green mouth now.

Owena has invited some friends down to her small-holding to draw the animals – she’s an artist herself. We regularly buy excellent meat from her, courtesy of her animals, and now I get to draw them first. So, after a brief talk about how to approach them, I take my sketchbook and decide, initially, which end of the pig to start with. Though they don’t stand still for you – pigs are constantly moving, shifting, flopping, turning.

We move into the rams’ field. We’ve been told not to run away from them – we have to sidle, really. What’s this not-running-away business? Aren’t they sheep with balls? Well, no. They walk purposefully towards you, four of them, in a line, as if they’re going to walk through/over you. We try to look calm and confident, and they walk right up and push you a little (but not actually butting).  But it’s too hot, and they go and stand under the shade of the thorn bushes. I draw them for a while (great horns!) then sidle away. Carefully. I’m in no hurry.

dancing men

Oi!  Men!  What is it about you and dancing? (Sorry – I’m addressing too broad an age range here. Let’s narrow it down). You guys – yes, you over 60: you went to the Palais, the Odeon, the Locarno, the Lyceum, the Marquee, the Flamingo, the Twisted Wheel, or wherever, didn’t you? Did you dance to Otis Redding, Georgie Fame, Zoot Money, The Animals, the Rolling Stones, Geno Washington, and to Tamla Motown, Blue Beat, rocksteady? Then in the late Sixties, to psychedelic stuff by Traffic, Floyd, Arthur Brown? Come on – you know you did! In that willowy, hair-swirling, floppyflared style that we called ‘idiot dancing’? Ah – there’s the rub! It’s the ‘idiot dancer’ memory, isn’t it? I sympathise.

(The hard sell: a new 10-week Contemporary Dance course in Lewes for men and women aged 60 and over. Contemporary dance technique and creative exercise. No prior dance experience is necessary; suitable for all abilities, over 60. Mondays, 5.45pm-7.15pm. 23 September – 2 December)

Venue: Cliffe Hall, Cliffe High St, Lewes.
Contact Lauren at South East Dance: 01273 696844 or