Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Watty's not been here

Oh, you noticed. Well, I'm still alive.

Various things intervened, including Christmas. And you don't want to know how long it took me to drive to Maidenhead every day for a week. And I've been thinking about this here blog thing.

And I think I've decided that it needs to be less of a diary, and more of a place for me to put things which interest, amuse or inspire me. Which is not to say that there won't be ecxiting things about the air conditioning unit (which is even as I type, successfully freezing the back of my neck), just that there will be fewer domestic insights. I'm not sure how this will work, but I know I need somewhere to come and write things down, and I know I've really missed it...

Ah, well. It remains only for me to wish all concerned a happy new year, and to point you at my rant review of the things I liked this year...
I'll be back in the new year. No, really.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Watty wasn't going to be here tonight:

I was going to try to watch some of the few things I've taped during the course of this year - I have a couple of Proms, A Clockwork Orange, a couple of documentaries, and there's also the Hitch Hiker's DVD... But that didn't happen. Just as the boys and I were being left to our own devices (well, me to mine, the boys to sleep), it transpired that Father Christmas was in the village. So Cameron's not going to bed, then. Sadly for him, Conor's already asleep.

I shall explain. Every year, Dunstable Round Table send a Christmas float around the village, collecting for charity. Father Christmas perches on the back, and I'm sure those really are elves doing the door-to-door.... The music was audible at 7:30, so we settled down for a short wait. Which became a longer wait. Which became an opportunity to do Cameron's new map jigsaw puzzle, and an opportunity to listen to some Christmas songs, and a chance for Cameron to watch Gary Rhodes' cookery programme (no, honestly - he wanted to watch it). Eventually, at about 9pm, the truck appears, and the elves knock at the door. I let Cameron open it, wide-eyed. He's confident enough now to actually talk to the elves, and put his money in the tin unprompted. Reward: one sticky drumstick lollipop, and a great deal of excitement. I'm a bit cynical about the 'magic of Christmas', but Cameron's not:

"Dad, that was the bestest thing I've ever seen!"

Sunday, December 01, 2002

Watty's also been to Dunstable Cemetery:

There's something about cemeteries, isn't there? The feeling that there is something taboo or governed by superstition, yet the familiarity of the experience, the realisation that most of the other people in here are also using it for recreation rather than remembrance. They hold an endless fascination - who can resist comparing the styles of memorial, chuckling at Victorian names, identifying the tragic stories, or simply trying to find the earliest date? We really just went there to let the children blow off some steam, but a couple of things caught my attention:

A simple, tiny white stone, marked: Kevin Clifford, January 1960, aged 4 weeks. Who were you, Kevin? Easy to talk of tragedy, of course, at this distance, but there are no other related stones around - no other Cliffords. How did you come to be there on your own? An only child whose parents - living still, most likely, couldn't bear to be reminded of you, and who moved away? The missing child in a large family, barely remembered, save by the mother who carried you? Abandoned, with no one to care for you, and your fate otherwise unknown? You'd have been coming up for 43 now - I wonder what you'd have made of your life, who your children might have been? You missed a lot of good things, Kevin, not growing up, but maybe you missed a lot of pain, too.

Easily the gaudiest, most ostentatious memorial in the whole place remembers what were clearly the patriarch and matriarch of an enormous family. Bigger than most of the tombs of the monarchs in Westminster Abbey, it dominates its little corner of the cemetery. Entirely carved in shiny black marble, it was either designed to look haphazard or has been added to piecemeal over the years. Each of the ten children has their own personal remembrance on it somewhere, some lengthy texts, some simple words. There are photographs and carvings - one piece of stone depicts what must have been the couple's faithful Yorkshire Terriers, another, uniquely in my experience, carries a minutely engraved picture of a Bedford panel van. I don't stand in judgement over it - opinions of taste really don't count when it comes to this kind of thing; a family will remember in the way they feel is appropriate - but I am intrigued by my reaction. I don't come away thinking how much their family must have loved them; I come away shaking my head at how much it all must have cost...

You see, there's always something to be learned in a cemetery.
Watty's been to the L&D:

Which is to say, the Luton and Dunstable Hospital. Although I don't generally recommend visiting Accident & Emergency on a Saturday night, I have to say we were seen quickly and efficiently, and it was early enough for there not to be any unpleasant scenes...
I'd better explain. Yesterday, we went to visit our friends Helen and Ross and their three children. There was much playing and fun, and the children had a good time, too. We had a long walk/scooter/cycle/pushchair ride round the neighbouing cemetery, and a marvellous dinner. And then, when it came time to get organised to go home, our boys suddenly find very important things they have to do now. In Cameron's case, this involves frantic bouncing on the indoor trampoline - there may even have been an element of showing off. Suddenly, from the kitchen, I hear a thud followed immediately by an "I've really hurt myself" kind of crying. I rush through and pick him up. Nothing is immediately apparent, but I can see blood from somewhere. Then he opens his mouth. It's full, literally full, of blood. We manage to work out that he's come down on the handle of the trampoline chin first, and that he's therefore bitten into his tongue. Everyone winces in sympathy, Cameron is still inconsolable. We manage to get some water into his mouth, so that we can see what the damage is, and it looks bad enough for the decision to take him to A&E to be an easy one. Conor is persuaded that staying behind will be fun (which it is), and two jittery parents and one sore boy pile into the car, and head for the hospital.

And, considering all that you hear about the state of the UK hospital service, it's relatively smooth and easy - not counting the charge to park our car, of course. The A&E is virtually deserted, thankfully, and we'r processed quickly. We wait for no more than 10 minutes to see a triage nurse (No matter how long I live, I will never be able to hear the word triage without thinking of M*A*S*H); we wre then allowed to wait in the children's waiting room, where there are brightly coloured plastic objects to take our minds off things, and we're ushered through very quickly afterwards. Cameron hasn't bitten all the way through - in fact he hasn't damaged the underside at all, and aside from a warning against salty food (just think about that for a minute...) we are free to go. All over in under 45 minutes.
So, hats off to the L&D, and if I thought there was any point, a warning to Cameron to be a bit more careful in future.... I'll tell you about the cemetery, if I get time later.

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Watty has a new hero:

Well, I would if I didn't think it somewhat unseemly for grown-ups to have heroes. Let me introduce you to Ben Schott. Ben is a photographer by trade, and I have absolutely no idea whether or not he's any good at it. For Ben has another talent. The story goes like this: Ben Schott is the kind of person who hand crafts his Christmas cards, and last year he thought it might be fun to send his friends some lists of almost, but not quite, useless information. Researching these lists took on a life of its own, and before he knew it, he had written a book. Not just any book, either.

Where else could you find the complete list of laundry symbols alongside the Glasgow Coma Index? The layers of the atmosphere along with a list of famous Court Jesters? The history of the Hat Tax alongside a list of countries which drive on the left? Never mind that this is hardly an original idea (whatever happened to Pears' Cyclopaedia?), this is a gorgeous book, compiled with care and a real eye for what is just the right side of trivia.

I know what I want for Christmas now...

Monday, November 25, 2002

Watty's thinking of Christmas (stop groaning at the back)

Now, the only reason I'm thinking of Christmas this early is the almost famous Christmas Letter. From something we always said we wouldn't do, it's taken on a life of its own. There will be no clues here as to its contents or style, mainly because i've not really worked it out myself yet, but those of you who have seen one before may rest assured that there will be something or other in the Christmas cards...

The other thing which has focused me on Christmas was the trip to Costco on Sunday. Now, I know it is getting a little late in the year for this kind of thing - Costco is busy at the best of times, and 5 weeks out it's only going to be worse, but it was only going to get busier, so Conor and I put on our body armour and our steel toecapped boots, and went for it. In reality it wasn't bad - we spent less than we had budgeted and we didn't have to queue for long to get out, and there was only superficial bruising from trolleys, so I think we did well. But I was struck by a particular stupidity which continues to irritate me. Costco have the most sensible, logical carpark arrangement I've ever seen in a place like that - the aisles are all one way, and the spaces are angled so that you always park nose first, to allow access to the back of the car for loading. It's clearly marked, and all the spaces are wide enough for doors to be opened, and children loaded and unloaded and so on. It's so sensible that it's a wonder more places don't do it. Except, of course, it's not a wonder, because the average British motorist is incapable of following a simple set of painted instructions. Every aisle I turn down is blocked by a car facing the wrong way. Usually they're trying to manoeuvre round into a space which is deliberately angled away from them, or even more intelligently, are crabbing round to reverse into the space. These are the people you see later, passing television sets and Christmas trees along a human chain, scratching the sides of their own car, to try to load up in a space which is already full of the people behind them who are doing the same. Me? I park a few feet further away from the entrance, and you know what? My legs don't fall off during the walk. Pah. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Watty's family heirlooms:

Following my enthusiasm for Gerard Hoffnung earlier, and having shown off my memories to my father, these arrived in the post a few days ago. They are, if it's not clear, the aforementioned books - looking a little worn now, which is only fair, since they're getting on for 50 years old - but I am overjoyed to have them, and shall treasure them always.

I am, of course, becoming a sentimental old fool, but never mind.

Monday, November 18, 2002

Watty could see this one coming...

Got a phone call at 7:15 this morning - "the aircon unit is leaking. We switched it off Friday night, and there should be someone in this morning"

Well, it wasn't bad, and it's fixed now, but the temperature must have been over 40o in there when I arrived. So at least we know it's required...

Sunday, November 17, 2002

Watty is parsimonious:

Books cost too much. Now, I know that if you're an aspiring author *cough* this will look like some kind of heresy, but it's true. I used to work in the book trade, and I understand the economics of it. Would it surprise you to know that the high street supermarket / department store outlets are charging a mark up of at least 50%? And that's based on 15 year old information. Actual, proper bookshops make far more. And, yes, I know that the investment in stock for a decent sized bookshop requires a significant return from every item sold, but still - books are too expensive. So, I rarely (I'd like to say never, but sometimes my desires get the better of my principles) pay full price for a book.

Having said that, this is ridiculous. On Wednesday, prior to meeting Paul, I popped into the basement at Henry Porde's in Charing Cross Road. It's a fine second-hand emporium, but generally charges London prices - which is to say, more than you would pay at the Carnforth Bookshop (it doesn't have a website, but if you're ever near Lancaster, you should check it out. Oh, and Great Grandfather's in Leyland, too). So, I just browsed speculatively; anything I found would have to be either irresistible or very cheap. Very cheap won the day - a US edition of Neuromancer for £2 (£2 is so far below London Price that I assumed they had missed the 1 off at the beginning). Pleased with myself, I was. Until yesterday. We went to the library (warning - utterly uninformative link), as usual on a Sturday morning, and filled our bag with storybooks for the boys. And then I quickly browsed the book sale rack, and picked up 2 fat SF paperbacks (an Asimov collection, and Greg Bear's Eternity) for which I was charged the outrageous sum of 30p. No, not each; in total. Clearly I haven't been trying up to now.

Oh, a word about the book list - Blogger seems to be having trouble refreshing my template, so it hasn't been updated for a while. I'm going to try again now, but if you don't see the books I've just mentioned over there, it's not because I'm too lazy to update it. Well, not just that...

Friday, November 15, 2002

Watty is joyful:

Well, the air conditioning works. In fact, it's probably too cold in there now. Oh, how I wish it were summer again....

Thursday, November 14, 2002

Watty's been having an interesting week:

Quite apart from the dramas of Monday, there have been more than enough things to keep me exhausted this week:

(Oh, Conor's fine, by the way - apart from some residual bruising, you wouldn't know anything had happened)

So, on Tuesday, I had my appraisal (I'd like to say it was appraisal season; truth is, we're hopelessly late. Such is life with Italians) - which I was actually rather pleased with; not that I thought there would be any major bones of contention, just that my boss and I know each other so well that we tend not to say or do the things we ought to, the things which keep a working relationship going. On Tuesday, we managed to say those things, which was quite a breakthrough. I also finally understood why he's been so grumpy recently - it was what I thought it was, but it was nice to know that it wasn't anything that I'd done.

Which meant that, in turn, I had to do my two guys today. You think it's stressful on the employee side of the desk; you want to try doing two contrasting appraisals in a row. I shall say no more, but it's worth observing that the guys are significantly harder on themselves than I am. This (I think) is actually a good thing - their standards are reasonably high....

There was a perfectly pleasant excursion into Soho last night in the company of PaulWay, jim, I'mNotJohn, and Simons Mith - good company, and I'm sure that there was a round of beers at one point at £1.45 a pint. In central London. The least said about the trek back to Euston past the closed tube stations, the better, I think.

And then there was the air conditioning.

We have bought a large number of servers over the last few months, and our poor old 3kW aircon unit can't cope any more - it's actually warmer in the room than in the rest of the office. So, we ordered up a nice big 10kW unit, and it was due to be installed yesterday; this didn't happen for various, entirely predictable reasons - I don't think that anything actually happens on schedule any more. So, we arranged for it to happen at 7am today; less disruption to the offices, since the guys would have to fiddle about in the roof void and so on. Now, the thing about proper big aircon units is that the condenser needs to go on the roof. So it needs to be of a size which will fit up the stairs to the roof, and more importantly, through the door. The door to the roof of our building is actually more of a hatchway - it's about 75mm square. The salesman came last week, measured up and confidently placed his order. The condenser arrived this morning, and there's no way in the world it's going through that hatch. So we debated the hiring of a crane, and various other more or less bizarre solutions until it was agreed that the contractors would get a window fitter in to remove the whole hatch and frame, take the condenser through (which they did, I have no idea how) and put it back in. All this in high winds and driving rain. I tell you, it's a glamorous life in IT...

Of course, so much time was wasted this morning that the job's still not finished. Perhaps we will have our nice new aircon unit tomorrow.

Monday, November 11, 2002

Watty's been in a timewarp

Cameron and I walked to school this morning. A bright autumn morning, with a heavy dew. All the leaves, which were stripped off the trees by the gales a couple of weeks ago, are now covering the ground in a kind of damp mulch - not much good for kicking around. We walked and chatted inconsequentially, and dawdled, and saw people we knew also going to school, and I was struck by a powerful nostalgia. This is exactly what walking to school has always felt like, I realised. Never mind that I was a foot taller than everyone; never mind that the chatter was about things which hadn't been invented when I was doing this every day; it is an eternal sensation. Children who are driven to school miss a hell of a lot. Oh, yes, there are plenty of children in large people carriers, even in our small village - you can't close Pandora's Box, you know.

The reason that Cam and I were doing the school run today was that Conor was in hospital having an orchidopexy (you could try Googling it, or I could just tell you it's a procedure to reposition an undescended testicle) - all is well, and he's back home now, exhausted and slightly resentful at having had a drip in his foot. He can't walk yet, having had a spinal block put in to deaden the pain, but a good night's sleep will resurrect him, I'm certain. I tell you what, though - I wouldn't care to go through a day like that too often... Beer. I need beer...

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

Watty has a domestic crisis:

The kitchen sink leaks. There's a big crack running the length of it, and water now pours into the cupboard below. Which is nice. On top of which, the dishwasher isn't working properly - I think its all scaled up - and so we need to wash more things than usual. But there's a crack in the sink. *sigh* And we think the fridge leaks, too.

On top of which, I found a bottle of wine in the freezer last night. I popped it there to cool down when Paul was here on Sunday, but we had red instead, and I forgot about it. So, the cork had been neatly removed, and the wime was solid, so I went to throw it out. And then I wondered. I left it overnight to thaw (which it did perfectly) and then resealed it with the vacuum pump this morning. I don't intend to serve it to guests, but I wonder if it's at all drinkable? I shall report back. Or not, as the case may be.

Monday, November 04, 2002

Watty is embarrassed:

Yes, well. I am still alive - more or less. There's been stuff going on, but no time to write it down. But we did have a jolly visit from Paul. If you ever need anyone to read Spike Milligan to your children, he's your man. Oh, and we survived Cameron's birthday party on Saturday - I've rarely been so tired at the end of a day...more soon. I think

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Watty blinks, and looks around:

Oh. OK, so I have to put stuff in here again, now? Hm. I've been pondering this - I don't honestly think that you've missed much over the past few weeks, but if I think of anything, I'll let you know.

So, I turned 40, I survived. I feel the same (but did I expect to feel differently?), and life goes on. Several people have been very kind about my Top 40, which makes it all a bit more worthwhile than it already was. Yes, of course I thought of some more - but then, that's kind of the point.... Part of the festivities involved a new digital camera for yours truly - coming soon: illustrated blog entries. Well, maybe. And another part of the festivities included a gliding lesson. I shall definitely be doing that again... Details to follow, assuming I get my act together.

Friday, October 18, 2002


Mahler: Symphony no.2 'Resurrection'. I have, I feel, shown great forbearance through all of this. I have wanted to write this one since I started, but I knew it ought to be left until last. It is two of my most powerful musical memories - in fact, it's probably my two most powerful memories of all. Now, I know it's possible to get overly pretentious about music such as this ( see here for details), so I'll try to remain calm but convincing. And let's get the other bit out of the way, too - I love much of the rest of Mahler's work, too - but this isn't about the power and majesty of the 8th, or the strange resonances of the 7th, or - but I said I wouldn't do this...

One of the conditions for Zoë accompanying me to those early Proms was that there had to be one with singing in it. Lots of big, choral singing. So I searched the Proms list for something - no 'Carmina Burana' that year - and settled on a Mahler symphony, because if there's one thing we all know about Mahler, it's the singing. And it was Abbado and the Berlin Phil, so it would be impressively played, too. Now, at this point in my life I knew only the bit of Mahler that everyone knows - the 'Death in Venice' bit from the 5th. (and, I discovered later, the Castrol GTX music, but I didn't know that at the time). So I did worry a little that a 90 minute symphony by someone with a reputation for being loud and intense might be a bit much for either of us. But there was going to be singing. We were sitting in the gallery, which can be a little disconcerting; you feel a long way up, and falling out on to the heads of the promenaders seems a real possibility. The hall was packed, and there was a definite edge to the atmosphere wahich I hadn't noticed at previous Proms. The hush before it began seemed somehow deeper, and there was an audible intake of breath as the baton was raised. The instant I heard the opening phrases - the big first chord, the menacing pulses of the low strings, barely audible, building to that first colossal explosion of melody - I knew this was going to be alright - more than alright. I sat there, barely moving for the first four movements, drinking in this music; it seemed inconcievable that I could have lived this long without it. My only concern was that there seemed to be very little singing as yet, and I wondered how Zoë was coping. I daren't look round, because if she was bored, or worse, asleep, it would have destroyed the magic. And then, as the fifth movement surged and flowed on, it happened. If you don't know this work, as I didn't at the time, you can have no concept of the impression the entrance of the choir makes. Everything gradually dies away; the last post is sounded, offstage, and the tumult of the orchestra is finally silenced. Then, seemingly from everywhere and nowhere at once, this faint breath can be heard. Only after several moments does it become apparent that this is the whole, massed, choir - the control is magnificent, rising slowly but steadily in volume, until the hall is filled with 'Aufersteh'n!' Then the whole orchestra and the soloists join in, and it is as if the whole world is singing to you. The ovation at the end was ecstatic, although I was still too caught up in this sound world to even take it in properly. We left the hall, and had walked most of the way back to the car before I felt able to speak. I tentatively asked Zoë what she thought, fearing that I might have subjected her to an hour and a half of torture:

"Wasn't that magnificent?"

I know that few people will have the opportunity to be introduced to this aweinspiring music in that fashion, but I really do recommend it. Of course, I had to own a copy, and of course, I had to listen to it as often as possible until I felt I knew it - I can hum, or whistle, great chunks of it now, much to people's bemusement. And I knew I had to see it performed again. The opportunity presented itself in 1999 - Sir Simon Rattle, and the Vienna Phil - this is going to be even better, I thought, as I planned to spend the whole day queueing if necessary. That summer proved to be a traumatic one, as Zoë's mum died suddenly whilst visiting us, and I don't think I had even begun to recover from the shock by the time I took my day off work to sit on the pavement in Kensington Gore. I did have high expectations of the evening, but I wasn't really prepared for the emotional power of it all. The whole symphony is predicated upon the idea of resurrection; of life going on, even renewing in the face of tragedy, and that evening, the whole performance seemed to be directed only at me. There were several moments where the hairs on the back of my neck really did stand up, and several more when I felt close to tears. Which, of course were finally produced by that choral entrance; joyful, defiant and overpowering.

I have never experienced anything like it, and I don't suppose I ever will again. There really was only ever going to be one final entry in this list.

Thursday, October 17, 2002


Penguin Café Orchestra. So, as I get closer to the end, I notice that there are common threads and themes coming together with these; I thought they were random, but maybe they're not, really. And here we start with libraries again - Inverness library this time. It didn't exactly have the widest selection of music, and I used to look through it, wondering if I would like some of the stuff I didn't know. After a while, it occurred to me that it wouldn't cost me anything to find out about some of this odd-sounding stuff, and I chose the one with the surrealist painting of penguins on the cover. And I'll be honest, I didn't really listen to it properly at first - I think I thought it was tedious and repetitive - but I didn't mind having it on in the background, and I made a tape of it for playing in the car, so I must have liked it a bit. Then, after we moved to Perth in 1988, we finally invested in a new-fangled CD player. One of the problems of the new technology was the lack of anything to listen to on it - for a long time we owned one Peter Gabriel CD, which was a bit limiting, really. I can't be prevented from buying music, though, and I scoured the record shops (Oh, OK; record shop) of Perth for bargains. So, one day there was this PCO CD at bargain price, and I snapped it up before I remembered that I didn't really know if I liked them or not. But I had made a wise choice; this was very accessible, and beautifully recorded, and I loved it. I loved it so much that I got out the old tapes and listened properly to them, too. And I discovered that I loved tham too. It wasn't tedious and repetitive, it was glorious and had much hidden depth - music from all over the world mixed together by someone who knew what he was doing, and played by people who were having a ball doing it.

So, in 1990, working mostly in Glasgow, I decided that we should try to go to a few Mayfest events (in researching this, I discover, to my horror, that Mayfest no longer exists. What is the world coming to?) - and joy of joys, here was a rare live PCO performance in the City Hall. I hoped it would be a bit of fun; I wasn't prepared for such a joyous evening. Live, this music took on a life of its own, entrancing all who heard it, even those who plainly had been dragged along by an enthusiastic partner. There was a university music class sat in the row behind me, complete with tutor, who were all raving about it at the interval, and never before had I been in an audience which quite so neatly encompassed all ages and types. What even the live recordings on 'When in Rome' hadn't captured was Simon Jeffes' effortless dry English humour - between numbers, he would deliver some laconic aside or other, which would invariably have the Glaswegian audience falling out of their seats. My clearest memory is of his opening remark; he swung the stand mike round to address us, and smacked himself squarely on the forehead with it:


I saw them once more in concert, at the Festival Hall in the mid - nineties; by then, I owned most of their recorded output, and would foist them on anyone passing - few people got it (but advertising agencies certainly did; PCO music is everywhere...) at first, but I like to think I planted a few seeds along the way. And then, one day in late 1997, I had one of those 'blood draining from the face' moments. I opened my newspaper to see an obituary for Simon Jeffes staring back at me. I had to sit down, and I don't remember before or since being so upset by the death of someone I didn't know. I hadn't even been aware he was ill, and he had so much music left to make, I know it. I was even sufficiently moved to write a tribute to him, and send it to his company. I have no idea if they ever got it, but it felt like something I had to do. Since then, I have filled most of the gaps in my collection, bought videotapes and visited websites; I have this idea that there really should be a proper musical tribute, with perhaps a concert version of the orchestrated pieces used in 'Still Life at the Penguin Café'; there's no point in hoping to hear them play again, since Jeffes was the PCO, but I have my memories, and they are as strong as any other two of the 40 here. Except, perhaps, for the last one...

Wednesday, October 16, 2002


Tubeway Army. There are several of these memories which relate to what I have, half-jokingly, referred to as 'rites of passage' - this is the only one which actally felt like one at the time. I have written about this incident elsewhere, but there's a little more flesh to go on the bones here.

The period after the Higher exams in my 5th year was a very strange one indeed; there were next to no classes to go to, and the majority of my time was taken up with putting on a play. Well, two plays. That story has already been told, but the striking things I remember about it were slightly downplayed. It was a time of great upheaval in musical tastes - we all changed opinions as often as we changed our socks, and there seemed to be so much stuff around that it was hard to keep track. Then I heard this synthesiser-driven thing on the radio: 'Are 'Friends' Electric?' It appealed to me instantly, and I had the feeling that this was the next thing for us all to move on to. And I was completely wrong. Everyone I knew hated it, it seemed. But I was unafraid - for the first time consciously in my life, I stood up for what I liked, and didn't go with the flow. Now it's not much to be proud of, really, but it felt like I was becoming my own person; and, what's more, I recognised it at the time. On the day it was released, I did what I had only dreamed about until then - I skipped out of school at lunchtime, got on a bus and went into town. I bought my treasured single, and hurried back to school. I seem to remember making it with only a few minutes to spare; but that may be over-egging the pudding somewhat; no-one was really paying attention at the time. In any event, on it went to the record player in the Drama Theatre - the 'Buzzcocks' one - and I felt for the first time in my life like a proper grown-up. I'd like to tell you there was a certain satisfaction in having everyone come round to my way of thinking, but in truth part of me actually wanted this record to be my little secret passion. Of course, it turned out to be the biggest-selling record of the year; but that just proves how ahead of the game I was...

Tuesday, October 15, 2002


Aaron Copland. Well, everyone knows 'Fanfare for the Common Man', and the Hoedown from 'Rodeo', and so on - and I came at him via ELP, as already mentioned. But in addition to all that, I have a specifc memory of Copland music, and of the Albert Hall and the Proms, so this might be a good place to wax a little lyrical on the whole Henry Wood thing...

Like many people, I suspect, for years I equated the BBC Proms with the Last Night; all that flag waving and rabble-rousing. I don't know when it finally got through to me that there was a lot more to it than that; but I know that for a long time I harboured a desire to go and Prom. And I can't explain why it took so long for me to get round to it - even after we moved to the southeast, I somehow never quite managed it. But eventually - in about 1996, I got my act together sufficiently to buy some tickets, and go and sit down at some. And that in itself is a wonderful experience; the hall, while not the most acoustically perfect venue, is incredibly atmospheric, and the presence of the promenaders seems to both change the normal audience dynamic greatly for the better, and to inspire the performers. But sitting in the stalls, I wasn't getting even half the picture. The next year, I thought I'd go and queue up - do it properly, and see what all the fuss is about. And it's everything they say it is, and more. I can't really adequately explain the joy of the Promenading experience; the cameraderie of the queue, the anticipation of the trek down all those stairs; the emergence into that vast arena from below; the mad desire to leap up on the stage and declaim something; the shuffling for position; the ritual audience declarations; the sheer sense of fun. And then on top of all that, you get world-class music for pennies - the grumbling at this year's price hike to £4 was mostly good-humoured; we're seeing some of the best performances in the world for £4...

And every time I've Prommed, I've discovered something new and wonderful. Sometimes it might be a performance which makes me hear a favourite piece of music in a new way; it might be a piece I'd previously thought impenetrable; it might be a soloist about to become a superstar. And sometimes it's a combinaton of things which shifts the whole experience onto a higher plane. Prom 33 in the 2000 season is the best example. A late night Prom - in itself, a wonderful experience, like a sort of musical midnight feast - featuring the music of Aaron Copland; but not a single piece I was already familiar with. The London Sinfonietta, under Oliver Knussen; a wonderful atmosphere, and the centrepiece was the Clarinet Concerto, played by the award-winning youg clarinettist Michael Collins. I enjoyed the other pieces that evening, but I was transported by the concerto. In that one evening, it went from being something I had never heard before to one of my favourite pieces of all time. I naturally went and bought a copy of it - the Benny Goodman performance, with Copland conducting - but whenever I hear it, I am transported to the Albert Hall on a warm summers evening, and I once again hear my musical horizons being flung open.

Monday, October 14, 2002


Blow Monkeys. Never underestimate the power of music. For instance, the very name 'Blow Monkeys' is able to make me feel slightly queasy, and the song 'Doesn't Have to be This Way' can actually induce a full-blown hangover. Not because I object to the music particularly; in fact, it's quite a lot of fun in a mid-eighties, politically-influenced Scottish pop music kind of way, but because it reminds me of Falkirk.

One of the side-effects of thrashing round the byways of northern Scotland flogging books was that I worked for a company which made an effort at having proper Christmas parties; everyone was encouraged to bring partners to some high-class venue like the Park Hotel in Falkirk, and party the night away. Now, I am not by anyone's standards a party-the-night-away kind of guy, but in the right circumstances, and the right company, I may dip my toe in the water... So, we had this Christmas party, and most of us 'field based' people were staying overnight, so there was very little thought given to being careful or not enjoying ourselves too much. Indeed, I'm pretty sure that there was a level of debauchery beyond the normal end-of-year blowout. There was some interpretive dance - probably unintentional; there was goings-on in the lifts; there was about 15 people in our room at one point; I have a feeling that we actually drank the bar dry. And there was a song. The song which everyone had to join in with. The song which got replayed a dozen times, just in case anyone had missed it. The song which had the good fortune to have a loud 'Hey!' in the chorus. You're ahead of me here, I can tell.

When they wouldn't play it any more, a gigantic conga formed in the reception area, and we (oh, yes, me too...) staggered around for what felt like hours, yelling: "Hey! What did I hear you say?". We must have gone to bed at some point, because I remember waking up with an appalling hangover. No problem normally - just take it nice and easy the next day. Except we had to drive back to Inverness. It took all day; it was certainly the slowest I ever did that journey, and contained a ridiculous number of stops along the way. And every now and then, this song kept popping into my head, and with every 'Hey!', I had to pull over again...

Sunday, October 13, 2002


They Might Be Giants. I have hinted along the way about the various jobs I did which I wasn't very good at. Mostly they involved driving around Scotland trying to persuade people who I'd rather not have had amy dealings with to buy first books, and latterly chocolates from me. I am not a natural salesman - indeed, I remain staggered to this day that I achieved any kind of success in either job - in both environments, I managed to get myself promoted to do something I hated less, and ultimately in my current incarnation, to a job I actually quite enjoy (and, I flatter myself, am actually quite good at). And along the way there was an awful lot of driving. I thrashed a successon of Astra estates up and down the A roads of northern Scotland; I spent more time than was good for me driving the notorious A9 at night (at one time, my kindly employer decided that team meetings were to be held in the evenings - yes we had team meetings; yes they're as bad as they sound - my team met in Perth, I lived outside Inverness. I used to get home around 2am, and get up for work at 6 the next morning.) I graduated to a lovely Ford Orion Ghia, which I flung around corners too fast for a year or so, then I was out of work for a while (the company collapsed. I don't think it was my fault.), and when I took up selling (technically, I was a 'Marketing Promoter', but it was selling) chocolates, I had a 'burgundy' ( = brown) Escort estate. With a radio cassette player - hey, 1989, folks - no CDs yet...

So I lived in Perth now, but the team meetings had moved to Rickmansworth. By the time I move south, of course, I'm expected to go to meetings in Edinburgh, but we'll let that pass. My journey plan was constructed by someone who had never been further north than Watford, so included all sorts of eccentricities; including one day a fortnight driving all the way to Stranraer in the morning, doing about £15 worth of business, driving to Dumfries in the afternoon, doing around £25 worth of business, then going home. A round trip of some 300 or so miles for virtually no purpose at all, except to subject me to hours of inane pop radio. Eventually I crack, and start buying cassette tapes to keep me sane. And I accidentally bought a TMBG tape - I might have intended to buy something else, but the selection in Stranraer was extremely limited, if you didn't like Daniel O'Donnell. Fortunately, these two guys operate on exactly the same insane level as the more subconscious parts of my brain, and they have a bucketload of great tunes. Profoundly silly at first hearing, these songs start to stick little barbs in your brain, until you are quite capable of saying things like 'If I were a carpenter I'd /
Hammer on my piglet, I'd /
Collect the seven dollars and I'd /
Buy a big prosthetic forehead /
And wear it on my real head'
and finding some meaning in them. The two TMBG tapes I own are forever associated with that long, dreary in places, drive to the edge of Scotland every second Tuesday - surprisingly, I am still fond of the songs. Which just goes to prove that the devil certainly doesn't have all the best tunes...


Elvis Costello. Way back then, when I started this exercise, I thought more of these would turn out to be like the Joni Mitchell one; lists of passing memories. Well, this one will be, because when it came down to it, I couldn't single out one particular moment. So here, in rough chronological order, are the Costello moments:
  • Get Happy! - sitting on the stairs at 31 King St, marvelling at the number of tracks on one side of vinyl.

  • Bouncing around my parents' living room, trying to figure out the words to 'Oliver's Army'

  • Pills and Soap - heard it first in my parents' car, wondering if they were hearing this vitriol...

  • Driving my van along Auchmill Road, being overpowered by 'Tokyo Storm Warning'

  • Hearing 'Good Year for the Roses' in Inverness - what on earth is this?

  • 'Spike' - another Perth Library record - I listened to this on the way to every interview that summer when I was out of work.

  • 'Mighty Like a Rose' - trekking the back roads home to Tring, yelling along to 'The Other Side of Summer'

  • 'Jacksons, Monk and Rowe' - do you know, I think this string quartet thing might work...

  • Buying 'The Juliet Letters', and playing it obsessively for a month - this string quartet thing definitely does work, and remains my favourite Costello album. Finding out that I'm not the only person who feels this way. Quoting bits of lyric from it at odd times; being stared at.

In fact, although I am selective about which bits I listen to, Elvis Costello is as much the soundtrack to my life as Joni Mitchell is - the fact that I seem to like the bits that most people pass by just makes him all the more of a personal favourite - sometimes I think that he writes stuff purely for my enjoyment. I can't imagine a time when I didn't know the words to 'New Amsterdam' or was able to stop myself singing 'my aim is true' whenever I meet someone called Alison (I don't ususally sing it out loud, thankfully) - it's sobering how someone you're never likely to meet can take over parts of your life in such subtle ways. But I'm glad it's him, and I've never been disappointed by him.

Friday, October 11, 2002


Fun Boy Three. I hadn't thought about this for years, I suppose, until I started to trawl my memories for this project. I guess this is not an uncommon tale - a lot of people must go through this particular rite of passage; I wonder if everyone has quite such a conscience-pricking song to go with it.

One of the apparent benefits of doing a four year honours course was that we got invited to go on Linguistic Weekends - well, to be strictly accurate, a Linguistics weekend, held at the Shap Wells Hotel in early 1983. The idea was to spend the weekend hiking in the lake district, discussing linguistics, and generally socialising with like-minded students from several other universities. As may be imagined, rather more hiking and beerdrinking went on than anything else (although I do remember a heated discussion about whether the '-man' in 'chairman' was semantically redundant) and a splendid time was had by all. Except that I had something else on my mind at the same time. Those who know me will know that Zoë and I have been together for what must seem like forever to those looking in; even in 1983 we were a pretty longstanding couple. Just before we left for this weekend, we shared a slightly alarmed phone call to discuss the faint outside chance that she might be pregnant. Now, I can look back and laugh now (actually, I'm not sure I can...) but it was a massively scary thing then. I was suddenly faced with the possibility (remote thought I was assured it was) of having to become a fully-fledged grownup. And shortly after that, a parent. I did the right thing, and refused to panic. Much. Needless to say, there was a lot of thinking going on that weekend, and eventually, once we hit the bar, slightly more drinking than was actually required just to be sociable. The next morning we were to set off bright and early to climb something or other, and I was surprised to be mostly hangover-free, although there was a certain fuzziness, and something lurking which I wasn't quite able to think about. Still, cold crisp air and a long walk should sort that out...

We piled into various cars, and set off. The radio was turned on, and out of it came 'Tunnel of Love'. I caught the words, which I probably hadn't listened to properly before now:
"a room with a view and a kid on the way/

Hope you make it to the church on time"

I remembered what I wasn't thinking about...

The PS is that, of course it was a false alarm, and yes, I did grow up quite a bit that weekend

Thursday, October 10, 2002


Kirsty MacColl. Even now, it's still hard to believe she's gone. Probably because she would spend long stretches of time out of the public eye anyway, I still expect to hear something about her from time to time. The first time I encountered Kirsty was in Belgium, oddly. Tracy Ullman's version of 'They Don't Know' was ubiquitous, even in Begium, in 1983, and we kept hearing it during our holiday. I had a feeling that it wasn't an original song, but was surprised to find that it was also recent, and written by the woman who wrote 'There's a Guy works down the Chipshop swears he's Elvis' I decided to enquire further - the daughter of Ewan MacColl surely had some interesting things to say. Then there was a cover of a Billy Bragg song ('A New England'), which really sparked my interest, since one of the few decorative features in our spartan flat had been a huge Billy Bragg poster.

Every now and then there would be a new song, or a sighting - she was the musical interlude on the early French and Saunders shows, and she more than held her own through 'Fairytale of New York'. But nothing prepared me for 'Kite' Her clever tales of whimsy and wordplay grew overnight into something much, much more substantial. Kite is simply magnificent from beginning to end, from the double whammy of 'Innocence' and 'Free World' through to the songs written with Johnny Marr; every one a gem. How it manged not to be a global colossus of an album is truly beyond me. And after that, she was always there - magical songs like 'My Affair' and 'Walking down Madison' mingled with intriguing covers and odd influences. She took long breaks and always seemed to be between recording contracts, so that new music was always sporadic at best. But I enjoyed what I had heard of 'Tropical Brainstorm', and had made a note several times that I really ought to buy it one day, when it happened.

My habit when I come home, if there is a TV on, is to call up teletext, and check the news headlines. One evening I did this to be greeted with the headline 'Singer dies in boating accident' Anyone I know? I wondered, and pulled the page up. Rarely have I had the physical sensation of the blood draining from my face and my knees going weak, but I did then. As I say, I still don't believe she's gone, and I still expect to hear some new music from her any day now. But what we've been left is a magnificent body of work in anyone's language, and one day I'll get myself down to Soho Square and sit there for a while, thinking of Innocence and the Free World...

Wednesday, October 09, 2002


Everything But The Girl. That first flat. It's not something I remember being particularly fixated on; I stayed in halls rather longer than most people because I was quite comfortable there, but I was going to have to move out at some point, and find somewhere I could call my own student flat. And that turned out to be 15 Raeburn Place, above L'Aquila Bianca chipshop. It was a perfectly good flat, but of course having three blokes living in it, one of whom never came out of his room, meant that it was never going to be the height of sophistcated living. Still, we had our moments, and I do have many happy memories of that final year - and some very hazy ones of those final weeks. But this was the height of my 'rediscovering music' phase, and all sorts of things appeared on my red plastic record player (oh, we were poor in those days; we had to make our own entertainment). Some things I heard on the radio, and investigated further; some things I had recommended to me; and some things I bought or borrowed on a whim. Some of it was worthwhile, some of it was rubbish, and some of it was the Human League.

And then there was the odd occasion when I saw a name in the music press. (I should pause here to mourn the decline of the weekly UK music press, but of course I sentimentalise it - not everything was better when I was 20, and there's no way that volume of newsprint expended on mostly ephemeral music was ever going to be sustainable.) At any rate, Everything But The Girl was one of those names which, once I saw it, I just had to know more about. There was no way it was going to be bad music with a name like that. Then I discovered that one half of the group shared - and still does share - my surname: this was a certainty. I'm sure I heard 'Each and Every One' before I rushed out and bought the album, but even had I hated it, I think I'd still have gone ahead. Fortunately, this was music which was easy to love, and I didn't resist. Cool, jazz-tinged, and quite strikingly unlike anything else around at the time, it was like a breath of fresh air after all the noise I had surrounded myself with for so long. It also stands up to the passage of time rather better than most of the music of 1984, and is guaranteed to make me misty-eyed at the memory of Edinburgh, and Raeburn Place. I'm delighted that Ben and Tracey carried on doing what they wanted to do for all this time, and somehow the global success of 'Missing' seemed just reward for all that pleasurable music which reached me at just the time when I was ready for it.

Tuesday, October 08, 2002


The Smiths. So, when I came out of my all-consuming heavy metal phase, there was this band. Everyone was ranting on about them and how they were going to change the world, but I couldn't see it. I remember making some sarcastic, cynical remark about "Oh, Manchester, so much to answer for" in 'Suffer Little Children' - but I was doing that 'not really understanding' thing again, and I should have learned by now. The music was everywhere in '84, and into '85, and some of it must have started to get through. At some point I borrowed a copy of the first album, and properly listened to it. I suddenly realised that here was someone of my generation able to write powerful, almost poetic lyrics in an English idiom - something which seemed, despite the punk outburst, to have died off around the time the Kinks stopped having hits. Add to that quite wonderful musicianship, and I was suddenly hooked, just like everyone else.

I don't pretend that these songs spoke particularly to me, or on behalf of me or my generation, but they resonante with me like almost no others. They bring back memories of that most uncertain period in my life, when I had left University and was watching everyone else get on with their lives while I wavered and failed to decide about anything, finally ending up in a job I wasn't particularly good at. I was prone then, and am prone now, to singing 'Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want' at times of stress (you have to hear it, it doesn't work written down), and several others, including 'That Joke Isn't Funny Any More' or 'How Soon is Now' at appropriate moments - their words spring fully into my mind when required, always the sign of a great lyric. And I picked up Douglas Coupland's 'Girlfriend in a Coma' because of the Smiths title, and found it stuffed with those same wondrous verbal tags - certainly the only novel I've ever re-read in order to find all the Smiths references. Sometimes I don't feel a particular child of my generation, but I listen to the Smiths and I realise I could be a child of no other.


Altered Images. I can't believe I have to admit to this. I'm not exactly embarrassed, but claiming to be young really isn't going to excuse all of it. Ah, well, those were altogether more innocent times. For each of the years I was at university, I had my summer van driving to keep me solvent; except (for some reason) for the summer of 1981. I have no idea why I was unemployed that summer, laziness was almost certainly part of the deal, though. I wasn't entirely idle, however - at least, I don't think I was... I do remember clearly redecorating the hallway and stairs in my parents' house. Now, I remember doing the whole thing myself, which is unlikely - it's more likely that I did a lot of the cleaning and painting and my father and I did the actual wallpapering. But no matter - what I remember is those few days of hard work, with my radio pemanently tuned to 'Wonderful Radio 1'. And I kept hearing, over and over, a nagging tune called 'Happy Birthday'. I hummed and whistled along, enjoying the jolliness and general amiability of the whole thing, and then I saw them - her - on Top of the Pops...

I finally understood what was meant by 'schoolboy crush'. The object of my crush was no older than I was, already clearly a major pop star (so that's another career choice closed off, then) and, well, just Clare. I'd like to tell you that I got over her very quickly, and chalked up schoolboy crushes to experience, but, well - have you seen Gregory's Girl? And I heard her on the radio only a few weeks ago, and there was still a spark there - unless that was indigestion...

Monday, October 07, 2002


Rush. So there had to be some fallout from all that noisy, hairy stuff that I immersed myself in when I first went to Edinburgh, and it turned out to be this lot. Something about them appealed to me straight away. Well, lets be honest, intelligent lyrics, clever musicianship, staggeringly good drumming and proper use of things like science fiction were always going to ring a few bells with me. I was intrigued by name checks for the likes of Ayn Rand - interestingly, using her name seemed to provoke critics into knee-jerk accusations of extreme right wing activities something which the merest effort of research would have debunked - and enthralled by a band which, having hit on a winning formula, would tend to do something entirely different next time around. There was a time when I owned all their records, even the frankly hatstand collaboroation with Max Webster. And eventually my enthusiasm faded to normal levels, and then to almost nothing. But I own some of their music on CD, and occasionally look in in their websites to see what's going on; and if some of their music no longer has the power to thrill like it did, some of it still speaks to me.

So when I remember Rush I remember Edinburgh, and up to a point vice versa; certain songs bring back very specific memories. The thing I remember most vividly, however, is my very first arena concert. Scotland had precisely no large scale indoor venues in the ealy eighties, so someone had the brilliant idea of using the Ingliston Showground Exhibition Hall. Without being unkind, it was a vast cowshed with a temporary stage at one end. The view was strictly limited, and the acoustics appalling. But it was still one of the best concerts I'd ever seen - partly due to the anticipation, and partly due to the genuine quality of these three guys. There's not much from that time that I remember with great affection, and hardly anything I'd actually spend money on now, but I make an exception for Rush.

Friday, October 04, 2002


Buzzcocks. There has to be a punk moment, and this is it. I could have picked almost anything from this time, but there's a story attached to this. We didn't really do punk properly in Aberdeen. We were a bit too far out of the loop. I mean, we had the expected furore when the Sex Pistols were banned from playing in Aberdeen, but I'm not even sure there was a serious suggestion that they were coming. There were Clash and Damned albums in the Year Area, and the odd safety pin - in lapels, mind, not in faces. We did enjoy the supposed anarchy and rebellion, but I think we were a bit half-hearted about it really. And we got it all several weeks after the fact, too - the latest new band were established chart artists by the time we actually got to hear any of the music - everything moved so fast in 1977 - ans I think that a little of the thrill was absorbed by that. And I can make no real claims to being a punk in any meaningful way; I liked the music I heard, but I didn't own any of it.

The only way I could hear it, other than the occasional radio play, was good old fashioned seven inch singles. In later years, there was a record player in the Year Area - I wonder whose it was? We queued up to put on our singles during lunchbreak particularly, and some of my fond memories are of almost entirely forgotten singles - Flying Lizards, Lemon Kittens, Spizz Energi, Regents (anyone remember "Seventeen"?) The other place where records might be played was in the dressing room of the Drama Theatre - there was a lot of free time between Highers and the end of term, and we were trying to put on a couple of plays to the accompaniment of various loud pieces of music, including, from somewhere, the Buzzcocks single 'What Do I Get?' Now, not particularly controversial (not compared to 'Orgasm Addict', anyway), it wasn't even particularly new - someone presumably had brought it in in a job lot of things to listen to. The other side, however, was charmingly, and challengingly entitled 'Oh Shit'. No-one dared put it on (hey, we weren't that rebellious) until one day, yours truly, bored or forgetful, or something, flipped it over and the room emptied. There was a first year drama class going on in the theatre, and apparently they could hear it all perfectly... I think it was my only act of teenage rebellion, and I can't even be certain that I meant it. Pass the pipe and slippers....


The Verve. 1997 is significant for one reason above all others - the arrival of son no.1. It's also the last year in which I took a close interest in what you might call contemporary popular music. I have no idea if the two events are linked; I suspect that there is a connection, but in truth I haven't really heard much since then which has managed to attract my attention, so perhaps it's indicative of a drop in quality, or I am simply getting a bit old for all this pop music lark. Either way, there seemed to be a glut of quality, grown up music that year - Radiohead, Oasis, Prodigy and so on, and I was still buying lots of it.
So why this lot, and not any of the others? 'Urban Hymns' is certainly not the best of the albums I bought that year, and I scarcely listen to it now, but it has a special place in my memory. Or, to be more accurate, one song does.

The weeks leading up to the birth of your first child are extraordinary; exciting and scary at the same time, they are also the last time for a long time that you will be able to simply be a couple. There are images from those weeks which are much stronger than other times before the boys were born, including the weekly visits to ante-natal class. Ante-natal is like a proper rite of passage. You trot along to the hospital where it will all happen and get shown all sorts of scary things, in the company of several complete strangers, whose only connection to you is their equally advanced state of pregnancy. There's some stuff with tennis balls, and lots of earnest discussion; a blatant plug for a particular brand of formula milk, and a tour of the delivery suite - among other things. We made a point of making sure we went every week; me getting home from work early, and driving down there in a series of practice runs. The first evening, we were parking the car when 'The Drugs Don't work' came on the radio. Not the kind of thing you need to hear right now, I commented. We laughed. The next week, the same thing happened: it came on at almost exactly the same point in the journey. Two weeks later, we heard it again, on the way down Deacon's Hill this time. It became, not through conscious choice, our ante-natal song. After Cameron was born, and I was making my way home, head spinning at the magnitude of the whole thing, I turned on the radio, and there it was again. I had to own it after that - and fortunately, it's a fine song. We also have the version of Lou Reed's 'Perfect Day' which the BBC did as a trailer for something as a much more appropriate birth memory, but I'll never forget the Verve.

Wednesday, October 02, 2002


Queen. Ah, my first proper obsession. 1975 - I was 13: perfect timing. I don't remember the first time I heard it, but suddenly it was everywhere. It was the only topic of conversation in the classroom: "Have you heard it? Did they play it all the way through? How do you think they do that bit in the middle? Have you bought it yet?" It hardly needs saying that we've never heard anything like Bohemian Rhapsody. I sort of knew Queen before - I think my friend Neil may have had one of their early albums - but I wasn't prepared for this. It seemed that everyone owned a copy of the single, but I already knew that I was an album buyer, and I waited for the album.

And I think I wore it out. I really did get obsessive about it. We forget, now, the glorious feast for the senses that a proper vinyl album was - the static crackle of the inner sleeve; the smell of the freshly cut card, and the black stuff itself. And then the sounds - warm and very quickly crackly; I do miss it sometimes. And when I think about vinyl albums, 'A Night at the Opera' is right up there - I played it, and learned it, and doodled it on my schoolbooks, and generally bored my friends to tears with it, and I bought the next album, and the previous one, and...

Then it stopped. The obsession passed as suddenly as it had started. But I think everyone should have temporary passions; they make life much more interesting.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002


Shostakovich: Symphony no. 4. Just to prove the random nature of these, here's one so recent it barely counts as a memory at all. Regular readers will remember the review I wrote of this, and the prize won as a result. Well, the dust has settled on this now, and there was no hesitation at all - it went straight in to the list. Unlike many of these memories, which depend on a piece of recorded music to take me back to a place and time, this is a very specific memory of an individual performance which still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

I knew next to nothing of Shostakovich 4 before I went to the Prom - as I said, I went to hear the Prokofiev Piano Concerto - and while I was sure that such a renowned orchestra and conductor - Kirov, under Valery Gergiev - weren't going to let me down, I did wonder whether such a long piece which I didn't know might not be hard work to concentrate on in such an environment. Of course I needn't have worried. It started powerful and riveting, and just got better and better; the time flew by, and the flow and control of the orchestra were stunning. The second movement really caught my attention, especially the sinister, rythmic ending, and I thought I was ready for whatever the third was going to throw at me. Of course, I didn't really know what the third movement involved, and I was nowhere near prepared for the sheer force and violence of the ending. Or rather, the first ending. For, as the cacophony ebbed away, the strings were gently throbbing - indeed, gently sobbing, and a solo celeste plaintively called out in the darkness, fading until all was silent. Gergiev stood. We all stood. Not a sound was made. Slowly, slowly, the baton was lowered. Still not a sound. Gergiev bowed his head but the audience was still spellbound. The silence - which I had estimated at 20 seconds or so was, in fact, 31 seconds. I don't expect ever to have such an intense experience in a concert hall again - although I can always hope.

I bought the symphony on CD as soon as I could, and I do already love the music, but nothing can come close to the magic of that performance.


Saxon. Oh, I wish it wasn't them, really. Although, having said that it could have been a lot worse. They were - still are, it seems - a decent, hard working bunch of lads from Yorkshire who liked their music loud. Bloody loud. And early 1980, this was the next new thing - the (ahem) New Wave of British Heavy Metal. I thought it might be a passing phase, something which captured my interest for a few months like everything else I had liked up to then, but this one stuck. Maye it says something about me at the time - leaving home, fending for myself in the big city, being forced to grow up - I seemed to take refuge in a kind of music which, while viscerally enjoyable, was a long way from the more thoughtful stuff I used to like. It's a long way even from the recent punk and new wave music which could be just as noisy and obstreperous. For some time afterwards, I pretended to myself that this phase hadn't really happened, and recently some of it has become fashionable in a kind of post-modern, ironic sort of way. And of course, as with any genre of popular music, there are those for whom it has never been away.

So why Saxon, particularly? Because they were the first. The first band I grabbed at when my friends started liking this stuff - pretty much at random, I think; and the first band I ever saw in concert. So they have to be here. And I remember the noise and the mayhem, the heat and the sweat; and I remember thinking I had never experienced anything like this, and I wanted more. Like I say, visceral. And, no - I'm not really embarassed, it's just who I was back then. I might even go and listen to some - for old times' sake...

Monday, September 30, 2002


Tom Waits. This is a bit of an unfocused memory, really - it's about depression, and the way some things just speak to it. I guess I was aware of Tom Waits before I ever heard him sing; he's that kind of musician. I do remember hearing an excerpt from Swordfishtrombones when it first came out, which would have been 1983, and doing what I guess most people do on first hearing that voice: wondering whether it was being played at the wrong speed. But something stuck with me. And then over the years, I would hear an occasional song which intrigued me, or which stood out lyrically or musically, or often, both; and as often as not, it would turn out to be a Tom Waits song: Nanci Griffith's 'San Diego Serenade'; Mary Chapin Carpenter's 'Downtown Train'; Rod Stewart's odd version of 'Tom Traubert's Blues'; Shawn Colvin's 'Heart of Saturday Night'; and then there was Holly Cole's album of gorgeous jazz versions. And so, I loved these dark, brooding songs of love and loss long before I ever heard the originals.

So I bought some Tom Waits, and I played them until I knew them, and then I played them some more - I defy anyone not to be heartbroken by 'Martha', or 'Ruby's Arms' or simply overpowered by 'Kentucky Avenue'. I played this music at odd times - when I felt like it, I supposed; and then one day realised that it was a simple and effective indicator of whether I was feeling depressed - I would reach for my copy of 'Asylum Years' without thinking. Which leaves me with a dilemma - I love these songs, and what they say, but they reinforce my depressions. I don't play them as much, these days - but when I do, I choose to because I'm feeling good, and able to cope with them. And nothing can or will change my opinion of him as an artist - he's a unique and powerful voice, and an original songwriter. He's also an acquired taste, but one worth the effort.

Thursday, September 26, 2002


Paul Simon. Why I love drums: Me and my trusty Philips transistor radio were inseparable in the late seventies - it came with me to football matches, it sat on the desk and blared things at me while I did my homework, it would have come to school with me if it could, and it lay under the covers with me at night time, and let me hear all sorts of things. I kind of feel too young for having memories of listening to Radio Luxembourg in the night, but I did for a while, and through the static and flutter one night, I heard an incredible drum track. It may even have been introduced as an incredible drum track, but I certainly noticed it. It sounded like nothing I'd ever heard on a pop record before, all slippery rhythms and sliding hi-hat, and I loved it before I even heard the voice that went with it. '50 ways to leave your lover', it was; and while I enjoyed the wordplay, I remembered that tricky introduction. It gave me a focus on the drum track which I have still - often, when hearing new piece of music, I search for the drummer and listen to what's going on there first. It's probably why I've never really enjoyed very much 'dance' music - the melody and lyrics have to be something exceptional to make up for the inevitable 4/4 crash.

Many years later, Zoë and I saw Paul Simon at Wembley Arena - it was a fantastic evening, save for the fact that the stage was about half a mile away, and the sound came at you from in front and shortly afterwards, behind. And, yes, Paul Gadd was there, and they played '50 ways', and I was transported back to Radio Luxembourg, and my faithful 'tranny'. I wonder what ever happened to it...


Rolling Stones. My Stones memory is not what you might expect. Not the music - although, of course, there are plenty of memories of the band who are older than me in individual songs: 'Satisfaction' in the gym at the exchange school in Germany; trying (and failing) to play 'Angie' on the guitar; 'Miss You' in the Drama Theatre at school; 'Emotional Rescue' in the car on the way to Edinburgh for the first time - but that's not what I remember.

What I remember is standing on Leith Street in 1982. Lunchtime in the Potterrow refectory; I've wandered upstairs - probably in search of someone who wasn't there, and the TV is on in the corner. The news peters out, and 'Reporting Scotland' takes its place. The lead item is the startling fact that the Rolling Stones are set to play three low-key concerts in Scotland - Aberdeen Capitol, Dundee Caird Hall and Edinburgh Playhouse. These are the kind of venues - probably the actual venues - they last played in about 1964, and although it must have been a slow news day, it's hardly surprising that it's at the top of the agenda. Tickets had already gone on sale, apparently, and I noted this fact as I turned to go back downstairs and resume my search. About half an hour later, something clicks in my brain. It would actually be something to go and see the Stones in a small(ish) theatre; after all, they won't be around for ever, and even if I'm not such a fan, it is the kind of thing I could tell the grandchildren about. So I walk down to the West End - no particular sense of urgency, for some reason - and join the back of what is now a long queue, stretching up Leith Street from the Playhouse doors. And we stand and wait, and stand and wait. After about an hour, it is clear that this queue is not going anywhere, and one or two people start to drift away. Not long afterwards there is some kind of official announcement, and the queue dissolves. Ah, well. I've still never seen them live, and I still don't own any Stones music, but it seems there's no hurry...

Still, that would have been something, wouldn't it?

Wednesday, September 25, 2002


Dire Straits. What happened to us? Did we all have a collective seizure? For a while there, just about the time I moved to Inverness in 1985, it seemed that every third album sold in the UK was a Dire Straits recording. I mean, it was perfectly respectable music and all, even a few tunes which I might remember with fondness were it not for the over-familiarity which can kill all but the most perfect pieces of music. Just for the record, I don't own a Dire Straits CD, which probably disbars me from turning 40.

But I did own some Dire Straits vinyl. What I remember is the advertising in 'Sounds' - "Anyone can get into Dire Straits", next to a line drawing of a burning aircraft. Mmm, tasteful, I probably didn't think. Then without warning, 'Sultans of Swing' was everywhere. And, damn it, it's good. Catchy; interesting lyrics, the kind of thing I might be persuaded to buy. So, of course I do - I pick the album up one day in The Other Record Shop of blessed memory, and stare at it for several minutes, in that way I do. Well, I'm sure it'll be fine; and I buy it, and it is fine. And before I know it, it's April 1979, and I'm studying for my Highers - sitting at home all day, surrounded by books and notepads (jotters!) and snackfoods. 'Dire Straits' becomes my regulator - If I put it on and start to work on something, by the time it needs to be turned over (don't worry, kids - your parents will explain) it's time for a break anyway; by the time we get to 'Wild West End', I need to stop and change the subject. 'Wild West End' is, naturally, my favourite memory of the album... But really - 25 million people own 'Brothers in Arms'? Is that really necessary?

Madness. Around the time that I was a chronically insecure teenager, my only refuge was the Longacre Players. The slightly-more-grown-up version of Aberdeen Childrens Theatre, we met on Wednesday evenings instead of Saturday mornings, and we did proper theatre - I'm not sure if the story of how we put on Hamlet will appear here or not, but we did, and it wasn't half bad, he said modestly. Being theatrical types, we were natural show-offs, and because we were putting on a musical - 'Fiddler on the Roof, if memory serves - there was a piano in the rehearsal room. One or two of our number were properly musical, and able to bang out not just well-known tunes, but also current and even new songs - I remember being impressed at hearing 'Down in the Tube Station at Midnight' on that piano.

Upstairs at no.31 King Street is, therefore, where I first heard Madness. Not on the radio, or on someone's tape recording (this was before Walkmen, folks), but bashed out on the upright piano, either by Alec Innes or Rannoch Donald. Upon enquiring, I discover that it's called 'The Prince', and it's the next big thing. Which it was, really. But this sets me thinking. In 1979, I was listening to Madness and The Specials, to Joni Mitchell and Dire Straits (which reminds me...), to Prokofiev and Mussorgsky, to Ian Dury and The Police, to Tubeway Army and Ultravox, to Thin Lizzy and UFO, to - you get the idea. I find myself wondering whether there is too much music for me to take in today, but it was ever thus. Perhaps my life has simply become more full of other things - I no longer have the time to investigate all the new stuff, when I know I'm never going to get through all the Haydn symphonies... How soon can I retire?

Tuesday, September 24, 2002


And so, naturally, to Modest Mussorgsky. ELP led me to 'Pictures from an Exhibition,' I did the rest. This was my first ever live piece of classical music. Well, I say that - there must have been other items on the programme that night, but I don't remember any of them. Perhaps my father would remember - he took me to the Music Hall in Aberdeen - my parents were regular attenders (and, as far as I know, still are) at the (R)SNO's concert seasons; I must have used my mother's ticket that night. I presume that they were under Sir Alexander Gibson, but I really only remember the music - the familiar 'Promenade'; the scuttling chickens; the Great Gates of Kiev... I wonder now why I didn't start going more often - that single concert made a strong impression on me. Maybe it just wasn't 'cool' enough; maybe I was too much into too many other things. I missed a lot, though.

(Of course, now I've written this, I remember being taken to see Hephzibah Menuhin at an age when I was still learning piano; so around 10 or 11. The chief memory of that evening, of course, is that I was asked to present Miss Menuhin with her bouquet at the end ('oh, look, there's a presentable child in the front row. Ask him') and my piano teacher, who was also in the audience, didn't recognise me. Just call me Zelig.)

Monday, September 23, 2002


Emerson Lake & Palmer. Much derided, both at the time and, even more, since - and not without reason (if you want a good laugh, try searching for the lyrics of Pete Sinfield), they were nevertheless as important to me and my musical education as anything I heard in the mid-Seventies.

It was a music class, I recall - I think the teacher's name was McPherson, but I might be wrong. At any rate, he decided to try and impress us with some modern music, and thought that comparing and contrasting the Ravel orchestration with ELP's version of 'Pictures at an Exhibition' would at least penetrate our disinterested teenage brains. Well, it worked with me. I'll come back to Mussorgsky in a minute, but the version I rushed out to buy was ELP. Now, say what you like about the pretentiousness or otherwise of what they were about, but these guys were (and still are) proper musicians, with real musical ideas, and they opened my mind to so much which I would otherwise have scorned. I retain, for instance, a fondness for the Ginastera Piano Concerto - a tortuous piece of music - thanks to Keith Emerson's 'Toccata', and I would never have explored Aaron Copland otherwise. When 'Works, vol. 1' came out, I snapped it up, and loved it in all its variety, getting to know Emerson's Piano Concerto, and considering it the equal of any I'd heard before then. Which, of course, was hardly any - I didn't know any concerto the way I knew this one. Many, many years later, I decided to dig it out and listen again, confident that my teenage enthusiasm would prove to have been misplaced. But it's actually a fine piece of work, if a little derivative in places - it certainly stands up to the passage of time in a way that a lot of those lyrics didn't. All together now:
Every day a little sadder,
A little madder,
Someone get me a ladder...

Friday, September 20, 2002


Mary Chapin Carpenter - having randomised these entries, these two go together, as do the next two. Just the way the cards fall. So, Mary Chapin. I don't honestly remember how I first heard her, or of her - on a compilation CD, I shouldn't wonder, but I remember learning to play her songs on the guitar. This must be 1995 or so - the internet is still pretty heavily text based, and one of the things I quickly discover is OLGA - now a shadow of its former self, but then a cornucopia of resources for the amateur guitarist. I find all sorts of things I'd love to learn, and then I find all the songs from 'Come On, Come On' - these, for some reason, are the ones I find most comfortable to learn. I must sound pretty odd, belting out 'He thinks he'll keep her', but I persevere, and I come to truly appreciate these songs as little gems of the songwriter's craft - there's nothing like learning to play a song to help you appreciate its inner beauty.
Watty inserts another small explanation:

I'm not really going to town on the hyperlinks here - I'd rather that if you like the sound of any of this stuff, you seek it out for yourself - my links shoud give a clue, though...

Watty starts to worry slightly:

I'm not catching up at all here - I'll just have to move my birthday back...


Nanci Griffith. This is really about Perth. Perth Library, to be precise. When I think of our time in Perth, I don't remember much music at all, for some reason - we bought our first CD player when we lived there, so there must have been a bit; and there are, as we shall see, memories associated with the vast amount of driving I did while I lived there, but Perth itself...

Perth Library had a small selection of recordings which you could borrow - pretty much all on cassette tape, and I would scour the collection for something new and interesting, and generally fail to find it. But when it did come up trumps, it was always with an absolute gem. I had heard Miz Griffith's version of 'From a Distance', a song which can make the teeth curl in the wrong hands - she carried it off beautifully, and I had wondered whether any more of her work would be worth investigation. Perth Library had a copy of 'One Fair Summer Evening', and I took it home, not really sure what to expect. Just the songs alone would be enough to make this a glorious collection, but it comes with Nanci's peerless storytelling. Every song tells a story, and every introduction comes with a little piece of Texas magic. I was hooked, and another whole avenue of music suddenly opened up to me. When I think of Nanci I remember seeing her at the Albert Hall - hers is very definitely a live experience - but when I think of Perth, I remember discovering Nanci Griffith.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Watty has a thought:

It occurs to me that my non-UK readers really aren't going to get Ian Dury. You'll have to trust me on that one...

Ian Dury (preferably with Blockheads). A true original, a one-off, and if this were a list of my musical heroes, then a much longer entry. But memories...

I've been trying to avoid dating things too much, principally for reasons of not having the hours required to research them - it should generally be reasonably clear when things happened. But this - this was 1978. So I was 16, and just at that perfect age for clever, witty songs which weren't afraid to swear. Quite a lot. At that time, music TV in the UK was pretty much restricted to Top of the Pops, that venerable institution, filled only with singles which had gone up the charts that week, and were tasteful enough to be put before the nation in the early evening; and The Old Grey Whistle Test (which deserves a memory of its own, really) late at night. And then, slowly but surely, some other things began to appear. 'So it Goes', 'The Oxford Road Show', one or two others, including a BBC series whose name escapes me for present, but which delivered a live performance into our living rooms at teatime on a Saturday. One weekend, I flick over to see who's on, and it's Ian. My mother comes into the room, intent on whatever it is mothers do when they're really checking up on their teenage children, and is met with 'Sex and Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll' and 'There ain't half been some clever bastards'. "Charming," I hear from behind, as the door is closed. With impeccable timing, the Blockheads launch into 'Plaistow Patricia'. I'm certain I really did hear this on the BBC at teatime on a Saturday - of course, it might have been bowdlerised, but this is Ian Dury we're talking about. The shame is, that he was the kind of bloke to have utterly charmed people like my parents. I resolve not to automatically dislike whatever my children find entertaining when they're sixteen.

Oh, and if anyone knows where I can get hold of the South Bank Show edition, with the coruscating 'Fuck off Noddy' in it, please let me know...

Tuesday, September 17, 2002


Magazine. Oh, this is an oddity. I had a punk phase (well, OK, a wannabe punk phase), and there will be evidence in the shape of the Buzzcocks along in a while, and then I had a New Wave phase, which lasted a bit longer, and was a bit more serious, and involved buying things like Magazine singles, and then I had a particularly ill-judged rock phase (yes, some gruesome evidence to follow...) during which, all traces of my past were obliterated or at least left in Aberdeen while I moved to Edinburgh. Fortunately, it didn't last long, and it was a combination of the sainted John Peel and a Magazine song which opened my eyes.

I have no idea now why Andrew, Graeme and I were driving (in Graeme's famous Escort) through bits of Morningside, listening to John Peel, but we were. On comes 'Shot by Both Sides' - again, I have no idea why; perhaps it was a personal message. Something in me aches with a painful nostalgia for the last of my schooldays - all of three years before - and the excitement of those times when everything seemed possible, and probably was. I quietly resolve not to be so blinkered in my musical tastes. Slowly, but surely, it works...

Godspeed You Black Emperor! I'm not even sure that people like me are allowed to like this kind of thing: anarchist free-form 'noise terror' groups from Canada really shouldn't be my cup of tea at all - but here it is, and while it may provoke a rather mundane memory, it might equally provoke someone to go and check it out...

Oh, and it's not 'noise terror' at all - like a lot of 'modern' classical music, it just takes a lot of listening to - you need to concentrate and think about what you're hearing. Eventually, it all falls into place. Well, it did for me - one night, driving to Leeds in dreadful weather, I had 'Raise yr skinny fists like antennas to heaven' on to keep me awake and alert - I slowly recognised that I was being taken over by a strange and surreal soundscape. I felt almost as if I was inhabiting the music, rather than listening to it. I listened to the whole, sprawling, thing twice through,and nearly forgot to stop for petrol, so possessed was I. The nights are drawing in again, it may be time to break this out again.

Monday, September 16, 2002


Pink Floyd. You know, all in all, Hazlehead Academy wasn't such a bad place. We all have to go to school somewhere, after all. We didn't have common rooms, we had Year Areas, but they are much the same the world over - a place to hang out at break times and form cliques and gangs; a place to swap music. Swapping music was big then - battered old cassette tapes doing the rounds, with all sorts of things on them. The 'Dark Side of the Moon' tape was mine; the 'Wish you were Here' may have been Scott Murray's (although he might deny it now). It's hard to explain just what it was that spoke to us so strongly - what did we know about 'hanging on in quiet desperation'? I remember spending an entire Sunday afternoon trying to transcribe the lyrics to 'Wish...' by ear - going over and over the same snippets trying to work out just what was being said, driving the household up the wall. There were endless debates about the sound effects; what did they mean, what were they made of; what were the spoken extracts? It was claimed that some fathers swiped their sons' copies to show off their new stereo systems to the neighbours ('you should hear the stereo separation on this...'); and there were the endless rumours.

Animals had been something of a disappointment (although I retain a sneaking regard for it as a much more concise picture of the times than so much 'political' stuff of the time), and the next one had taken - believe it or not - two whole years to make. The excitement was staggeringly disproportionate to the actual event. For weeks, there had been talk of triple albums, of orchestral works, of the band having split and only Roger Waters being left (closer to the truth than we realised), and everyone agog at there actually being a single, and the British public actually buying it in vast numbers. And when it was finally delivered, via a trip into town after school, so I could buy it on the release date, it actually did live up to the hype. Well, it did if you were the right age. I have listened to 'The Wall' recently, and parts of it stand up pretty well, while some of it is overblown hysteria; but it was exactly what I wanted at the time. It also contained several parts which I managed to learn to play on my guitar; anybody want to hear the arpeggio from 'Is there anybody out there?'?

Thursday, September 12, 2002

Watty suddenly remembers:

In the midst of all this excitement, I have this other writing to do. I don't know, life would be so much easier if I didn't have a life...


Capercaillie / Runrig. Not strictly cheating, these two are two sides of the same coin. I imagine that, had I stayed in Scotland all those years ago, I might have found both of these a little too much; a little too Scottish, which is an odd thing to say, but I think I had to be away from things for a while to appreciate them. So what have we here? Two Scottish bands, who treat the Gaelic language as an easy and natural medium for songwriting. The approaches are quite different - Runrig are a pretty traditional rock band, with an occasional tinge of 'Big Country', while Capercaillie are much more of a logical evolution of the traditional highland sound. Both are recommended listening, but that's not why I'm here.

They both make me think of Scotland, of home, and Capercaillie in particular make me think of friends I really ought to spend more time with. Several years ago now, I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days working in Scotland; I could meet and stay with my dear friends Andrew and Mairi, and I could spend a day showing one of our brand managers around some of my old haunts. Andrew and Mairi were, naturally, extremely hospitable, and over dinner played me 'To the Moon'. Although we were chatting, and catching up, and generally having a splendid time, I managed to hear enough of it to realise that I would really like to own it - it seemed emblematic of Scotland, and the things that I had missed. The next day, I picked Anna up from Edinburgh airport, and dragged her round Edinburgh for a bit. I'm certain we didn't get as much work as we might have done, because I was too busy showing off all my favourite bits. We stopped at the Gyle centre to do a store audit, and I dived into a record shop and bought my own copy of 'To the Moon.' It made a stirring and entirely appropriate companion for our little jaunt up the east coast; I've never enjoyed a day out like that as I did that day - Anna was a good friend, and an excellent travelling companion, and the soundtrack fitted the scenery perfectly. Whenever I hear it now, I'm transported back to that day; good company and good music - you can't beat it.

Watty exults:

Well, maybe not exults, but...
The story is done. At least, the first version of it is done - I am determined to see this project through now; people have been so kind and encouraging that I feel I should carry on working on it. There are several things to be done: rewriting the opening chapter, for instance, it's full of infelicities and doesn't really sit with the style of the rest of it (which is fair enough - I didn't know it was going to be a 35.000 word novella when I started); I know there are some minor plot holes which will need filling, and at least one extraneous red herring which is just a distraction. Also, I have this idea that it mght be readable for someone who has never heard of Mornington Crescent, so there will need to be some explanatory stuff blended in subtly early on. It has also occurred to me that I have never described any of my characters, so that people with their own opinion of what Tilly looks like might have been surprised by the short hair and the fact that she was significantly shorter than me in the last chapter. Then I really need to para break the speech, since it's quite difficult to read at the moment; proof read it, and probably rewrite other chunks which I rushed or didn't think through properly. But I really want to do this, even if it takes as long again to complete. I cannot tell you how satisfying it is to have completed this large piece of prose - around 120 pages of standard sized paperback, I reckon - not bad for a beginner...

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

365 days ago...

I was sitting right here, where I'm sitting now. I don't remember if there had been any support calls during lunchtime, but I was whiling away the end of the lunch hour browsing around various sites. I dropped in on Popbitch, as it is always good for a laugh, and I vaguely know a couple of people who post on there. There was a picture of one of the World Trade Centre towers with a hole in it, headlined 'Who would do this?' I almost dismissed it as a Photoshopped hoax, but just in case, called across the room to see if anyone had any news services open. The BBC were, as they tend to be, being careful about checking facts, and had only a couple of lines in the ticker about an 'incident'. We found a report on CNN complete with the picture I had just seen, and there was a debate about what kind of aircraft it was, and how such an accident could happen. The longer I looked, I gradually realised that the scale was all wrong - this was a large aircraft. I kept trying to work out just how wide the towers were, and what size of impact could make such a large hole. I was in the middle of recounting the tale of the B-17 (I think) which impacted the Empire State at the end of the war, when I refreshed the Popbitch page, and saw the first report of another impact. I shouted out "someone switch on the television, I think this is no accident"

There was a small television set in the meeting room across the corridor; the room which we knocked down earlier this year, and there was the BBC, showing clearly the two towers, both in flames. Still something wouldn't quite sink in. Then the first video image of the second impact appeared:
, as I remember it, with no warning - just what appeared at first to be another view of the same scene and a sudden, sickening realisation of just what we were seeing. Then reality just suspended itself for a while. I came back to my desk - there's only so many times you can watch people die - and with each refresh of the screen, the rumours got more and more outlandish; dozens of hijacked aircraft; several in Europe; a bomb in Washington; a plane crash in Washington; they've hit the Pentagon...

The whole thing rapidly overtook any conceivable rumour. One of my colleagues came back from the TV room, visibly shaken: "One of the towers has just collapsed" I nodded, unable to even process the sentence. There seemed to be no urgency to go in there and see for myself. Instead, I found some sort of calm detachment from things, trying to carry on working while in truth continually refreshing the messageboard - a lot of the posters on there work in the media, and they were posting whatever feeds they were getting, without any moderation - there was a lot of noise, but there was also a picture visible through it - that there were only 4 aircraft, that they were all accounted for in one way or another, and that nothing would quite ever be as it was before. I did eventually make myself go and watch the images: there was clearly going to be no way of escaping them, in any case, and I gradually came to accept that what I was seeing was real. People were really dying, right there in front of me, and there was nothing I or anyone else could do aout it.

About 4:30, I gave up the pretence, and went home to hug my children. Zoë had just picked them up from Nursery, and her car had pulled in in front of mine. "Tell me you've seen the news," I gasped as I jumped out of the car. She nodded, much to my relief - I hadn't considered until that moment that I might have to tell anyone about it. We briefly debated what and how to tell the boys, but in the end, the TV went on, and we all watched together. Cameron was not yet 4, and he couldn't really grasp what had happened. "Was it an accident, Daddy?" "Yes" "Will it be alright again?" How do you answer that - I had no precedent for this; no-one had. We packed them off to bed as soon as we could, and in between watching the pictures numbly, discussed how we were supposed to bring children up when this kind of thing can happen. But a year later, we're still here, we're still bringing them up as best we can, and I'm still sitting here, typing into this machine. Just as I was 365 days ago, at almost exactly this time...