Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
So after a hard day at the digital coal-face yesterday, number 15 of about 16 phone calls occurred. And it was my editor at the Eastanglian. He said. " I've got this new medieval history book, d'you fancy writing something about it?" And I said: " Oooh yeah. Yes please!" I added that I'd been reading a lot of history lately. It's quite true. I've been poring over this old book by Arthur Bryant which uses words that I occasionally have to look up...words like 'enfeoffed' and 'scutage'. It's all about the effect that the Norman invasion had upon Saxon England, about how the new regime despite its cruelty had eventually to assimilate certain basic legal tenets and concepts which had been put firmly in place earlier by King Alfred. I actually find all this stuff highly interesting.
So when the offer to look at a book about medieval Colchester comes up, I now reserve the sort of anticipation and interest for it that forty years ago, I might have done for say, a new album by the Kinks or the Small Faces. It's only stuff like this that demonstrates to me that time has passed and that I am indeed older than yesterday. A bit later, I was walking down to the pub for my customary let's-kick-the-day-in-the-head gargle and I thought, "Golly I'm really looking forward to reading this book." Is time really all it takes to turn yesterday's pop yobbo into today's dull old bookworm?
Meanwhile, in London the protesters and the police are knocking seven colours out of each other. One protester, who looked and dressed rather like I did about twenty years ago...long hair and outlaw bicyclist clothes explained to the camera: "Well it's the banks. They've stolen all our money, haven't they? " I studied him intently. He had an honest young face and demeanour but it occurred to me that he didn't look like the kind of guy who owned any sort of investment portfolio-- or even a house for that matter. I wondered how the banks had stolen his money and how much of it they'd stolen. That made me feel older and wiser too.
And then I remembered being in the middle of a poll-tax protest in Colchester twenty years ago. I found myself in somewhat of a melee. In the middle of it, a bloke grabbed me by my shirt, pushed his face at me and shouted in an Irish accent " Would ye happen to have a fag on ye?" I said. "Of course." and groped around in my drainies for a crushed fag-pack. As I was doing so, a senior uniformed police superintendent whom I'd been pushed back-to-back with, turned round and asked me: "Is this man bothering you?" I replied. " No. He just wants a fag." It was a very strange encounter.
A little while earlier, the police had stopped us all at the bottom of the High Street. It was right outside the Conservative Club, which is situated above a newsagents. A voice from the Conservative club barked. "I'll pay your poll tax for you!" and a suited arm came out of the window hurling down a shower of 2p coins. A salute of v-signs went up from the crowd. And then they noticed a skip full of masonry and old vegetables from the Saturday market. Logic interceded and the contents of the skip were launched upwards at the Conservative Club, breaking many of the windows, while the occupants scurried for cover. The police tried to marshall the crowd away but we charged down the High Street towards East Hill. Four big police horses brought from Southend rode through the crowd knocking a woman down and breaking her ankle. The police horsemen now found themselves at the top of East Hill, with the crowd stopped outside the old bus-station. " Sit down. Sit Down!" shouted a marxist with a megaphone. The police horses wouldn't be able to ride through a huge crowd of sitting people and were now cut off from the main body of their colleagues. Then some football hooligans joined the crowd, having just alighted from a bus. They saw the placards and the protesters and immediately began hurling things at the Poll Tax Registration Office windows, where people were trying to tend the injured woman. I saw some local CND people looking at their watches, realising that it was time to go to the pub. They sloped off down Queen Street away from the riot. The revolution ends at opening time, hey?
In London meanwhile, a much bigger and nastier riot was going on and Trafalgar Square was filled with broken bricks, scaffolding poles and vicious fighting while the protesters set a building on fire. A tearful Maggie Thatcher was marched down the corridor and out of office within about six months of this. The English people had been pushed too far. Shame that it had to be a pain in their own wallets which would finally galvanise them into action, I thought. Not a war. Not the creeping changes to the country's social tapestry, which she'd inculcated almost by stealth. Just money, that's all.
I don't think it's ever worth having a riot, though I can see how one might arise. And the leaders of the big countries are currently patting each other on the back and saying what a great day it's been. Well, I really hope it has, although I doubt it somehow. And I wonder where that police superintendent is now. The one, who in the middle of a riot asked me, a protesting citizen, whether the guy trying to bum a cigarette off me, was bothering me? Now that was a very impressive bit of multi-tasking. But I grow old. I grow old and I'm going back to my history books.
A rather English riot in 1990
Great, a week with some sort of a normal shape on it that doesn't involve cars or trains. Spring popping up over the pyjama cord and I've got a list of mundane tasks to do that's about thisssssssssssssssssss long. Back from St Andrews last Tuesday night. St Andrews is a really nice place. Only about And-a-half-times bigger than Wivenhoe with a population of about 17,000. There's a very venerable old university there, where they sent Princess William for a while. The result of this, I was told by helpful locals, is that pushy American moms often send their daughters there, in the hope that they might marry a prince. It's true that I heard almost as many American accents in the streets as I did Scots ones. As I found in Edinburgh, the locals are very polite, hospitable and good fun. I'm beginning to think that Scotland is a rather more civilised country than England, and by quite a long chalk.
St Andrews/ Dr Seuss's tower in foreground.
The StAnza Poetry festival was quite the best-organised one I'd ever performed at..bar none and St Andrews itself is littered with ancient monuments and beautifully-kept old houses. If it wasn't about eight hours on a train from here, I'd be back there every other weekend. People I met, met again. or encountered included Simon Armitage, Elvis McGonnigal, Carol Anne Duffy and a number of others. My various responsibilities and performances dictated that only on the Sunday night did I get to have a bit of a long drink. This ended in a Scotch whisky, the likes of which I don't normally taste in England. I mildly regretted this when I found myself on Monday morning just about to face two groups of schoolkids in the Byre's Studio Theatre. It went well though. I think.
Unlike Wivenhoe, for a small place, St Andrews has tons of shops ( all open) cafes and restaurants (nearly all open) and a huge amount of pubs (all open) Among the shops is a kilt repairer, two or three health food shops, a New Agey crystal shop, all sorts of specialist shops that I haven't seen down here since the 1960s and unbelievably, a Christmas Shop that was doing great business on the Saturday morning in late March when I went in there. Those ancient monuments again: a ruined cathedral with what looks like a Dr Seuss-designed tower, a castle, loads of arches, two beaches, a beautiful coastal walk, a cinema, and a fabulous modern Arts Centre. I nearly died of beauty fatigue and had to go and lie down one afternoon. The place feels really haunted too and I had the strangest feeling that I'd been there before. No wonder that their patron saint built the place there.
On Tuesday I rushed south in time for Wednesday night's gig at Maldon Library. Lovely town is Maldon, but not really in the same league as St Andrews. Good audience though. Packed out at about 120 people and Waterstone's and Ian P's stall sold loads of books. I must be getting popular for some reason. Last night, somewhat against my better judgement, down to the Rose and Crown to watch local boys Scarpenter's News playing an amiably shambolic gig. Tai Chi Dave and I after an immodestly long drink didn't need to be asked twice before we were up there, drunk and playing God-knows-what on unfamiliar instruments. I had a bit of a wine-ache this morning and I can't remember going home. Gaaaaa!
Baker Lane, my shortcut to the Byre theatre with its cherry tree.
As long as I can remember, I've hated opera. As soon as I hear it, I have to remove myself from the source of it. It may be different in other countries, but in England, it's always been the music of the ruling classes, snobs and toffs. From the bombastic melodramatic music, through the singers who sound as if they're singing through a bout of fellatio, to the starchy fat-ass clothes and Miss Tiggy winkle opera-cloaks of its adherents, it is repellant, insulting and stupid. (In my opinion.) Offered a chance to go to the Royal Opera House for free, several years ago, my answer...after an expletive, was." Do I have to? Can't someone else go?"
Gilbert and Sullivan on the other hand, a thing which is regarded by many opera snobs as lightweight, middlebrow 'operetta' is a different thing. A sort of ASDA hybrid of opera and the musical, it often possesses slick and witty word-play along with some charming tunes. That's why there are Gilbert and Sullivan Societies all over our clutterered island. We're not really a highbrow nation and we like to say so. I can put up with that. I've occasionally even reviewed such things. Wivenhoe has a Gilbert and Sullivan Society. They're quite good and rather popular. They put on one G&S production every two years. Alternate years they do a popular musical. The year before last it was My Fair Lady, which was great. Last year it was Madame Butterfly, which would have been alright were it not for the fact that they set it in a modern car factory , with half the cast clad in Chinese car-worker overalls. The end effect of this was to make it resemble a production by the inmates of Guantanamo Bay. It was well performed though, and the scenery painters and backstage cast always sit up on the scaffold like the diligent crew of a Blenheim bomber, working lights, effects and all the other stuff. You should be so lucky to have crew like that.
One thing that I don't like, when the G&S Society put on a production, is how after they've taken their curtain call, they swan mob-handed into my local, when I'm playing at the Tuesday Busk. Readers of past entries here will know how much I love the Tuesday busk. It's not folk, it's not jazz and it's not hard rock. However it is acoustic. So when three or four of you are trying to do a song and a bunch of amateur luvvies sashay triumphantly in, in their " HI! WE'RE HERE THEN!" manner and then stand around yattering and braying so loudly that you can't hear yourself play or sing, it's a bit annoying really. After all, do Tai Chi Dave, Alec or I go clinking lager tankards and shouting the odds, while they're trying to do the Soliloquy from Carousel?
I know it's only a pub and it's only a busk but it's still music isn't it? And it's our music, Which they do actually ackowledge. They do this by occasionally glancing over in our direction with faintly-amused smiles and by twittering even more loudly. Naturally this makes me behave badly. I do this by picking up my guitar, and walking throught the crowds of them, singing loudly and raucously. Occasionally I shout "Amateur luvvies!" over the racket. Mostly, however, I content myself by sitting there hammering the bass and looking at them like I want to kill them. I never mind them coming in. After all they've been singing. They've had a good gig. Who would begrudge anyone that little pleasure? It's just the sneaking feeling I get somehow, that they think, they are engaged in a rather more celestial form of music than we are and therefore have no need to reduce their yattering volume for the low music which we like to engage in. We don't expect reverence, silence or even their attention. We just wish to hear ourselves above their braying and whinnying. Which is why, when I finally got home last night, I found myself trying to rationalise the situation in a mature and caring way. This is what I did: Having thought it all out, I rampaged around my house repeating the relaxing and life-affirming mantra (below) in order to calm myself.
"The terrible, rude, middle-class cunts!."
I felt very much better after this. I exhort all rock musicians to try it, when under duress.
I have a bit of a headache this morning.
A Gilbert and Sullivan