Saturday, 5 November 2011

Kind of Life Affirming Really

It’s been a poor few days. I managed to hurt my back in work on Thursday and then I woke up on Friday morning feeling very ill indeed. So much so that whilst holding my head in my hands in my bathroom at 6am I said out loud to myself “I do not feel well at all!” I talk to myself quite a lot but I’m not really worried about that because basically everybody does don’t they?

I ran a marathon in November and due to lots of other and I must point out enjoyable commitments I haven’t had a day of rest since the run in about 6 weeks. So I decided last weekend that on this Saturday (today) I would do absolutely nothing if possible except for going for a walk in Sefton Park taking photographs. I decided to do this because I knew the park would look beautiful due to it being Autumn and colourful. My walk was put in jeopardy by me not being well yesterday and I was going to go to work but my two colleagues (Cam and Carmel here’s looking at you) convinced me not to go in and that they would be able to manage everything that was required.

The day of rest did me the world of good, so thanks you guys.

I had a bad sleep and woke up this morning in a lot of pain but decided I was still going for my walk because I knew by next week that everything might look different. So at about 8.30 I wandered out with my ipod on. I never do this because I feel really self conscious walking around with my headphones on (I did however wear them on the bus to the Doctor’s yesterday) but I must say I really enjoyed it and from now on I’m going to do it a lot more often. I put the play on random just to see what was thrown at me.

I stopped off for a takeaway coffee on Lark lane where I saw the terrible news about the huge crash on the M5 Motorway on the TV that has 43 people confirmed dead so far. It made me really sad to realise that 43 families were waking up today to a totally different life due to an accident. I’m ashamed to admit that a few minutes after walking into the park I forgot all about the crash because everything looked truly beautiful and for about an hour and a half I lost myself and wandered around taking photographs (I think I took about 70.)

I’ve become pretty addicted to Instagram on my iphone. Anyone who knows me will know that I’m on it all the time and constantly posting pictures (username @novicemathematic if anyone fancies following me.) I used to like photography in secondary school but my enjoyment of it has been totally rekindled by the app so it’s fair to say a lot of pictures from the morning’s trip will be making a showing. The park looked stunning and on more than one occasion I exclaimed out loud at some of the sights I was seeing.

It was kind of life affirming really. I know that’s a massive statement to make but it really made me think about stuff and how there’s much more to my life than my all time consuming job. It reminded of the reasons why I love Liverpool, I thought about people far away, I thought about my friends, I had an idea for a play, I thought about my family and the things that I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to do, I mean I get to act, I get to create music, as a teacher I get the chance to have an impact upon people’s lives. With all this in my mind I got genuinely excited for the future. So it was kind of life affirming really so I’m standing by my bold statement.

I was also proved wrong by a group of lads and I really like it when that happens. As I was walking by the lake I saw a group of three boys, let’s say they looked like scallies, hoodies, whatever you want to call them and they had about 5 Pitbull type dogs with them. I immediately thought of the stereotypical news stories about lads with aggressive dogs being bad owners etc (I know it’s a massive stereotype but hey what can I say?) So I watched these guys as they walked towards me and what I saw was three lads who obviously really cared for their dogs and were simply enjoying an early morning walk in the park. The dogs were chasing round after each other without a care in the world and they and their owners looked happy to be out…Exactly the same as me. I gave myself a ticking off for falling on stereotypes and walked away. I saw them again several times on my walk and on one of the times I saw that they had befriended another dog owner and were actively talking to them and enjoying meeting their dog. I gave myself another telling off and walked away again.

I’m heading back to the park tonight to watch the fireworks with some of my closest friends and I know that it’s going to be great. It might not be a life affirming experience but I know I’ll wake up tomorrow glad that I went and didn’t stay in watching TV or something similar.

Life’s pretty good when you think about it.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

My Gran's Sweeping Generalisation and the Fear that She Might be Right

I spent last weekend in a cottage in the Lake District with 7 really good friends. We had a brilliant time. I was going to write a blog about it but my friend Niki wrote a far better one than I could ever dream of so you should check hers out instead by clicking right here:

The place where we stayed had absolutely no phone reception and this meant that no one could access emails, text messages, the Internet etc. We all went on about how cool that was but then scrambled frantically for our phones whenever we visited a local town or village that had any signal. People were suddenly desperate to send texts, find out about any football transfers or find out the surname of the main character in District 9.

Anyway this got me thinking back to something my Gran said a few weeks ago. We were talking about modern technology. I was singing it’s praises and she was pretty intent on disagreeing with anything that I said. She discussed how they had to make do without lots of comforts during the 2nd World War. She then remarked that my generation and indeed the generation below me simply wouldn’t be able to cope without our smart phones, computers, MP3 players etc. I took a stand for all of us and told her that she might be surprised by how adaptable the younger generations are.

She didn’t believe me.

So I took the question into a tutorial session in work.  I told the students what my Gran had said and every single one of them agreed that they simply could not live without their technology. One even said that they would rather die than be without it. I told them to have a good think about it and tried to point out benefits of being without technology e.g. writing a real letter, socialising with real people rather than avatars, facebook friends, total strangers etc and talking to people without headphones in their ears.

They weren’t interested at all and went on to tell me that I myself couldn’t cope without my iphone. I had to remind them that I was alive before mobile phones; computers and the Internet became commonplace. They didn’t believe me and when I told them that my old family TV only had 3 channels on it and that the channels used to stop broadcasting at midnight, they called me a liar.

I left the lesson slightly disappointed and put the question to bed. I still believed my Gran to be wrong but I had no proof to give her.

2 days ago my Sister, Brother in Law and two nieces left the country to fly back to their home in Australia. I went to meet them at a pub called the Honey Bee near Manchester Airport. I knew where the pub was as I had been there before so decided that I had no need to put the postcode into my iphone as it would be easy to find and that’s where it all went horribly wrong.

The first error was my own fault. I was rocking out in my car (this is dangerous and highly non recommended) and as result I sped past the airport turn off from the motorway. I knew that I’d done it and immediately started planning how I was going to get back there. I decided that I would get off at the next junction and double back on myself to get back on track. After getting off the motorway I saw another sign for the airport and against my better judgement I followed it instead of sticking to my original plan. It’s fair to say that I got really horribly lost.

I had a vague idea of where the pub was but since I was now coming to the airport from a completely different direction I couldn’t figure out which road I needed to take. The next part of the story is fairly long so I won’t write about it but it involves me taking several wrong turns; a lot of really offensive swearing and at one point an accidental return to the motorway (this really put me in a foul mood and I had no problem telling it so.) I decided that I needed help so I pulled over, Googled the pub and found it’s address, I then opened up Google maps on the phone and searched for it’s location and looked for directions. Now this would have been fine if the phone could actually find me but due to poor signal, it didn’t. It gave me a good idea of where I needed to go though and off I went. About 2 minutes later my phone ran out of battery and then I was really screwed.

I fell into a genuine anger fuelled panic. I was aware that I only had a short amount of time to spend with my family and that the time was really precious to me, I realised that I had no iphone map to rely on and even worse I realised that I couldn’t ring anyone to explain why I was now 45 minutes late. There would also be a point when they would try to ring me to find out why I was so late and since I had texted my Dad when I left Liverpool they knew my phone was on and in my head I imagined my poor Mum starting to really worry as to why my phone was dead and that I hadn’t turned up.

There was nothing for it. I had to pluck up the courage and go old school. I had to stop and actually speak to someone.

I pulled into a pub and spoke to two plumbers who were having a smoking break outside. These guys were legends and after telling me several times that I was miles away, drew me an amazing map that got me to my family within 10 minutes. I didn’t get their names but I’m extremely grateful to them both. As they were explaining the map I found that I was able to name most of the landmarks they were drawing because I’d already seen them myself several times over the past hour.

When I eventually arrived at the pub I realised that I had been within half a mile of it 3 times from 3 different directions and each time had turned back thinking that I’d gone wrong.

Upon entering the pub I apologised about a hundred times to my family but found out that they themselves had only been there about 20 minutes and that I would’ve spent the 1st half an hour or so on my own.

Not a total disaster then. I did however then go on to accidentally poke my 4-year-old niece in the face, which caused her to fall off her chair, whack her head on the wall and start crying. This was pretty much the last thing I did to her before she flew half way around the world. She seemed to forgive me pretty quickly though and blew me a kiss from the car.

I had a really nice time and was very sad to see them go. The situation was saved slightly by the radio playing ‘Sultans of Swing’ by ‘Dire Straights’ as I drove home. The whole getting lost thing had really pissed me off but even worse than that it started me thinking and unfortunately I’ve decided that…

My Gran might actually be right.

I went to see an amazing band last night in the Scandinavian Church in Liverpool. You should check them out. They’re called ‘Theresa Stern’

Thursday, 2 June 2011

A Penny for your thoughts

Lyrics! They’re a strange beast. I write a lot of them. Sometimes I love doing it and sometimes I really struggle. Sometimes they’re quite weird and sometimes, people tell me that I have a problem.

Occasionally people ask me what my lyrics are about and I often answer “nothing really!” This is actually never true but it does take away the need to explain about personal feelings that have been translated into words so that anyone else who fancies it can listen to them.

The truth is my lyrics always mean something to me, even though to the casual listener they might not make any sense whatsoever. This doesn’t mean that I write them to be ambiguous or anything as clever as that. It just means that they tumble out of my brain and onto a page and then they sort of stick around. To me they’re about relationships, break ups, bad days, arguments etc. They’re not usually about happy events. People often ask me about that and there’s a simple explanation. Sadness tends to stick around longer than happiness. Unfortunately you store it in your mind, mull it over and let it creep into all aspects of your day, week, month or year. Happiness on the other hand tends to be enjoyed and then quite often moved on from until you reminisce about it with the other people who were involved. I often tell people that I don’t write happy songs because when I’m happy it’s because I’m doing something, I’m with other people and they’re making me laugh and forget about why I might be writing sad songs. I had an ex girlfriend once who asked me to write a happy song for her and I did. I threw together some lovely romantic statements. I think one verse went  ‘Lovely weather, all is well, hand holding, smiling.’ I then set the lyrics to some very depressing music and let her listen to the song. I felt fine about writing that happy song because I’d sneakily won the war. I’d held up my side of the bargain with the happy words but then thrown them off balance with some truly miserable music and melodies behind them. I don’t think she liked it!

This isn’t to say that I don’t write love songs or even happy songs for that matter. I do, it’s just that they’re normally much more personal to me and I choose to keep them for myself or for the people that they’re about. Some people might hear them but they don’t usually tend to make it as ‘band’ songs. This isn’t always the case but normally it’s the rule. Occasionally people might know that a particular lyric or verse is about them but quite often people have no idea about how they’ve sneaked into my consciousness and in turn I’ve then sneaked them into a song.

I often write songs in two or more sittings and this usually leads to the lyrics having two sides. The first half might be about an argument but a week later when I come back to it, the argument might have been solved and therefore the second half might be much more positive. I actually quite like this. Sometimes songs get written over many weeks and the lyrics have a real up and down feel to them but then others come together really quickly and just focus on one particular thing. I suppose that I don’t really have any set rules.

I’m currently locked in battle with a song that I’ve been trying to write for well over a year. The song in question has the working title of ‘Dan, Dai and I’ and the words have changed many times over the last 14 months or so. I’m not proud of this fact. In fact it’s really bugging me. I’ve completed it several times, gone back to it the next day and scrapped everything. For some reason I really want to get this one right and fingers crossed I think I’m winning at the moment. Time will tell but right now I’m pretty happy with it. It’s one of those ones where people I know have sneaked into it but probably won’t ever realise that they have.

Ben Folds wrote one of my favourite lines. In the song, Evaporated. He sings, “I poured my heart out, I poured my heart out…it evaporated.” The first time I heard this it really struck me. In fact it made me stop what I was doing so I could think about it. I like it because it’s a little bit clever but not in a smug way and I like it because it tugs at me a little bit. I feel like I’m being allowed into his world for a few brief seconds and that I’m sharing an honest moment with someone that I’ve never met. Of course the song might be completely non-personal to Ben, it might just be a story that he wrote and he’s singing the lines as a character.

I wish I was better at telling stories in songs. Huw (drummer in the band) often encourages me to do it. I tried it once and wrote a song, which I (and a few other people) liked. It was called ‘The 48th Time’ and was about a man who decided to throw himself off a building but changed his mind the second his foot left the ledge. He died. It was a sad story!

Maybe I do actually have a problem.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

I had a dream last night about my dog Shandy. There’s nothing unusual in that. I actually dream about him quite a lot. He’s been dead now for nearly 9 years but he still hangs around my mind and I’m pretty glad about that.

It wasn’t even a particularly pleasant dream; in fact we’d ended up in a mad scientist’s house because of Shandy’s enthusiasm to explore new places and the aforementioned scientist wanted to carry out experiments on my dog and was trying to kill me whilst he did it. The strangest thing was he was making me smash up coffee mugs at gun point whilst he told me what experiments he was going to carry out (I don’t quite understand that bit!) Anyway we both managed to escape and I managed to set fire to the house as we got away so it was all ok.

Waking up though was and always is after Shandy dreams the hardest part. There’s a short moment after I open my eyes when everything seems normal again and then realisation comes flooding in and I remember why I’m only having dreams about my old best friend rather than having to fend him off as he does his very best to leap on my bed and walk all over me every morning.

I often dream about Shandy, one dream was particularly horrible and genuinely scared me. I can still remember it vividly now several years after having it and I’m not going to talk about it here. The worst dream I had about him though was also the most beautiful in its simplicity. I took him for a walk down the lane by my parent’s house and that was it. It was a normal dream about a normal day. It was very, very real though and when I woke up I woke up smiling, I was genuinely happy but then that horrible realisation came rushing back and I curled up in my bed and cried for a few minutes before falling back to sleep again. I’d love to say that I was young boy when this happened but I wasn’t. I think I was 28.

Now you might think that this makes me a bit pathetic (I mean a grown man getting upset by dreams about old dead pets even seems a bit pathetic to me and I’m the one having them!) but Shandy was a positive constant during a really horrible time in my life when I was struggling in many ways. I like to keep myself to myself so not many people knew about the mess I was in. During this period Shandy had a genuine knack of appearing at exactly the right time to help me shake myself and put the bad feelings away for a little while and I’ll never underestimate how important that was at the time.  Maybe it says something about me that I can relate to non-speaking pets rather than friends and parents but that’s bye the bye.

I write a lot of songs and during that period I really struggled to write anything that I would ever want to listen to again. I didn’t want to be reminded of bad times and I pretty much dried up (and to be honest never really recovered.) The time had a massive effect on the way I write lyrics presently and I wish that I could find a way to get back to being prolific (at least if you hear one of my songs you’ll know the words have gone through a pretty rigorous selection period though!)

Like I mentioned before though, Shandy was a constant during that period and I have many cassette (go look them up kids) recordings of me sitting in my bedroom playing acoustic versions of songs in development on my old stereo mic set up. I can guarantee that in 90% of these recordings you will at one point hear Shandy barking outside my door trying to get in or actually managing to open the door and then casually strolling up to nuzzle me with his really loud chain collar and name tag banging together loudly to ruin my current take. I never really minded though and it’s sometimes nice to dig these tapes out and listen to a familiar noise. The songs are rubbish and make me sad but Shandy’s arrival always puts a smile on my face.

My band are working on an album at the moment and maybe I’ll dig one of the cassettes out and stick some Shandy chain noise at the start of a track. That would be pretty nice I think…but on the other hand it might turn me into some emotional idiot each time I listen to it. I’ll dig the demos out and have a listen, see how it makes me feel.

I’ll keep you posted.

Some of my future blogs will hopefully be loads happier than this one… I sort of promise.

Go and listen to these guys though, they’re pretty good: