An uneven silence

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Mornings, when I came to visit my father, were always the same. He’d sit in his chair reading the newspaper. I’d come and sit in the other armchair and read whatever caught my eye, a book, a discarded section of his paper or in later years something on ny phone.

The room would be silent, broken only by the turn of the page or other people elsewhere in the house, my stepmum in the kitchen cooking bacon buns for breakfast or the kids in the back room watching tv or arguing about whose turn it was on the computer.

Occasionally the silence would be broken, one of us would speak, I’d ask him his view on something in the news, usually chosen for maximum reaction or he’d ask me if i’d seen such and such a movie or heard of so and so the singer. A discussion would ensue, views would be exchanged and then the silence would descend once again.

As I sit here this morning in my usual place I stare across at the empty chair opposite and though the same silence fills the room it’s an empty uneven one.

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A Night at the Proms

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Ligeti: Poème symphonique
Berio Sequenza V
Xenakis: Phlegra
Jonathan Harvey: Mortuos plango, vivos voco
Louis Andriessen: De snelheid
John Cage: 4’33

I went to the Royal Albert Hall the other night for the late night Prom. May have got there a little too early and despite having to dash over to the park to find the toilet I was still third in the queue for an arena promming ticket! At one point a lady from the venue came out and gave us all a raffle ticket to mark our place in the queue but no one ever asked to see them so I wasn’t sure what the point was. Shortly afterwards a load of people who were at the earlier Prom came out for the interval and started having picnics on the wall next to me!

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After the first prom finished there were more people joining the queue and to my surprise people who were at the first prom were given preference over those of us who had waited in the queue. Either way I still got ticket number 26 and when we were allowed into the arena found it quite easy to get very near the front.

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While we waited I noticed that behind the orchestra position on the choir seats sat 100 metronomes stretched across the whole width of the stage. As we sat several members of the orchestra sat on the stage near the metronomes and suddenly without warning they started them going and left the stage. People around me continued to talk as the metronomes clicked frenetically away. It was only after a while that the house lights dimmed and the audience began to focus on what was happening (apart from one woman whose voice could be heard loudly from the area of the circle). Slowly the metronomes started to run out of steam and one by one they dropped out until only two next to each other remained clicking in a melancholic duet slighly out of time with each other . You could have heard a pin drop as the last metronome ticked slowly to a stop, the silence in the room held for an eternity until the audience broke into applause.

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Afterwards there was an example of Proms humour as the applause died away someone clapped mimicking the metronomes. This was then imitated by others but was suddenly halted by the first blare of a trombone as Byron Fulcher appeared at the top of the steps to the left of the stage dressed in a clown outfit complete with white face and red nose! He played Berio’s Sequenza V very theatrically before collapsing on the floor at the end. Afterwards was my favourite piece of the night which Xenakis’ Phlegra – I first heard Xenakis on Radio 3 from the Proms a few years ago and fell in love with his music straight away so it was good to see a performance at such close quarters.

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We were told that when the Xenakis piece finished we would be plunged into darkness for the next piece but sadly the RAH doesn’t do dark very well. It was a shame really as I would have liked to have heard Jonathan Harvey’s Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco in complete darkness with the way the 8 track recording spun around the room. Following an interview with composer Louis Andriessen there was a performance of his piece De Snelheid which I found the hardest of all the performances this evening – all of which, I later noted, that my wife would have asked “what the hell is that…” if she heard them!

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The final billed performance was John Cage’s infamous silent piece 4’33” which I’d been looking forward to. I liked the ironic way the orchestra tuned up for it before sitting silent through each of the 3 movements, turning the pages at the end of each bit. The idea is that the performance space creates it’s own sounds and throughout you became aware of the small sounds that go on around you all the time but are usually drowned out. The shuffling of feet, people coughing, seats creaking and even the sound of your own movements all become the focus as the orchestra sits there in silence. I did wonder if Radio 3 had to turn off the system that would normally shut down the transmitters after such a lengthy period of dead air.

The final piece which wasn’t on the original bill was by Matthew Herbert and was called Encore Intervention – Small, smaller, smallest. A team of people had roamed around the hall during the performances recording bits on mobile phones to create a soundscape. The audience was meant to join in at a given point by sending themselves a text message but this sort of went wrong as I don’t think we all got the instructions so mobiles were going off left right and centre but to my mind this added to the whole composition.

What’s in a name?

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One of the first things you see when you come to our house is a plaque next to the door bearing the name Wilfred. It has sadly lost some of the letters so that only the Wilf bit is still visible. It’s intrigued me since we moved in and people often ask us why it’s there and we have to admit we have no idea!

Then today a lady knocked on our door and handed us a file full of documents. Apparently her mother-in-law used to own the house and she had come across the file when she was sorting out her belongings after she passed away. The file contained documents covering all of the sales of the property since the whole estate was sold in 1890 before any houses were even built.

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There are some very old documents, some of which look like originals. One even has the original wax seals attached.

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Sadly at first glance there doesn’t seem to be any answer to the question “who is Wilfred” but I did find something close!

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I shall look forward to having a good look through the documents at some point soon.

Mayday Mayday

May Day Morning

Twenty years ago today I had been working all night at Stationer’s Hall up in London setting up an event for the following day. Driving back to Rochester in the early hours my plan was to go to the Jack in the Green awakening Ceremony on Bluebell Hill which started at dawn or 5:32am. I’d been living in Rochester for about 5 months at this point and although I’d been to most of the festivals in the city I had never been to the Sweeps festival. It seemed to make sense that I go to the opening ceremony in preparation for the weekend ahead.

The only thing was it was absolutely pouring down with rain as I drove back down the A2. I um’d and ah’d  all the way back but as I came off at the Rochester exit I decided to go even though, I reasoned, I’d probably be the only one there! I drove into Bluebell village and found the turn off to the picnic site and to my surprise the lane was jam packed with cars. I eventually found a space and parked before grabbing my camera and getting out to walk down the lane to the picnic site.

The first thing I saw as I looked round, through the half light and the mist, was a man wearing antlers on his head silhouetted by the headlights of another car coming up the lane. I raised my camera but by the time I got it to my eye the scene had gone – I’ve regretted not getting that shot ever since! I followed antler man down the road to the carpark and if I recall correctly we had to climb over the gate to get in. The were lots of people standing around a circle of flaming pots and in the centre stood the Jack in the Green.

Jack in the Green

The ceremony was just starting as I arrived and I saw a group of Morris Dancers in brightly coloured ragged clothes standing around the Jack and they were singing….

Now winter is over, I’m happy to say,
That we’ll all meet again on the first day of May.
And we’ll all meet again on the first day of Spring,
And go about dancing with Jack in the Green.
Jack in the Green, Jack in the Green,
And we’ll dance every spring time with Jack in the Green.

At the end of the song music started and they danced around the jack banging their sticks against the shovels they were carrying. Over the next hour or so a number of Morris sides took turns to dance and I took photographs and enjoyed the entertainment. After a while people started to drift away and I headed home, arriving soggy but happy on my doorstep at the same time as the milkman!

Over the next 16 years I went every year first as a spectator and then after I joined Wolf’s Head, as a participant. I even turned down the chance to dance with the side a week before Sweeps because I wanted my first public dance to be atop Bluebell Hill on May Day morning. In a similar fashion I danced the Wolf’s Head signature dance The Four Seasons for the first time on May Day 2003.

My first Four Seasons

Since 1992 I’d only missed 2 May Day mornings – 2006 when I’d been up all night with one of my cluster headaches and 2009 when I’d worked 13 days straight without a day off and decided to stay in bed! That was until this morning…..

I got up at 4:15 and got dressed, went down stairs and made myself a cup of tea. I sat in the living room and drank my tea before putting my boots on ready to go. It was at this point as I sat back in the early morning silence that I heard the rain lashing against the windows (or Beltane down as my friend put it on Facebook!). I looked out of the window and just like the last couple of weeks which accounted for the wettest April in 100 years it was pouring. It looked cold and wet and I decided that no matter how much I enjoy the Jack in the Green awakening ceremony I just couldn’t be bothered to go out there and get soaked to the skin. So I got undressed and went back to bed.

No sooner had I got into bed than I heard a bird singing outside the window and instantly regretted my decision! Happy Beltane everyone!

Beltane Fire

Cluster Headache update

Ooh Look…..

My portable oxygen supply to relieve my cluster headaches has arrived ! And there’s 2 of them! So much for the idea of taking it to work or on holiday when I have an episode!

There’s a small part of me that’s starting to wish I’d never found out what I was suffering from! In the past I lived a normal life and then every 12-18 months I’d get a bout of very painful headaches which would last 4-6 weeks and then things would go back to normal.

Since discovering that Cluster headaches are the cause I seem to have spent most of the time thinking about them. Instead of just getting on with life between clusters I’ve been looking into causes, cures, signs etc. Is that twinge above my eye a shadow meaning a bout is imminent? Having drugs and oxygen on standby isn’t helping.

So there’s a tiny bit of me wishes that I hadn’t bothered and had just put up with the headaches when they came. Of course when I’m awake all night for the 30th night in a row feeling that someone is jamming an ice pick in my skull while crushing my left eye in a vice I suspect I may feel differently!

and they wonder why people hate them!

Over heard in the bank today.

The woman in the queue in front of us had gone in to find out why she had received a letter telling her that her account was overdrawn even though she was no longer using it. She had moved her account to another bank but as it turned out for some reason when she had used Paypal the money had been deducted from this account instead of her new account. This had resulted in around £150 being taken out of her account.

Now given that there was no money in the account, nor had any regular payments been made into it, the bank had still authorised each of the transactions as and when they had come in. Given that we live in a world that is controlled by computers I can’t understand why banks continue to allow money to be removed from an account that has a negative balance or maybe this might explain it…..

As well as the £150 that had been withdrawn by Paypal from an account that had no money in it there was also the small matter of the £250 the bank had added in fees because she had withdrawn money from the account – that’s a nice little earner isn’t it no wonder they can afford to pay themselves huge bonuses – £250 for allowing transactions to go through that shouldn’t have.

The poor woman had suddenly found herself £400 overdrawn on an account that she was no longer using.

This happened to us a few years ago. We closed our joint account and paid off the outstanding overdraft. Only it turned out that the bank hadn’t closed it and had then added an interest charge which caused the account to go overdrawn and then they added a charge which then made it more overdrawn. So the next month they added another fee and another the month after until we got a letter telling us we were a couple of hundred pounds overdrawn,

Now we got the charges refunded and I think the poor girl in the bank did too but I wonder how many people aren’t so lucky and how much banks make from these little scams?

And they wonder why people hate them!