Entries in music (13)

Tuesday
Mar062012

fare forward

I'm in a bit of a bind. Part panic, part paralysis, with this new year hurtling by so fast it's taking my breath away and this song going round in my mind. I need to decide what I'm going to commit to over this next year, and beyond, to make myself happy. The kind of intrinsic happiness that comes from doing something that you love and that leaves you with the sense of a day well lived. Something beyond the daily contentment of family: something entirely personal. These last years have been so full of parenting that this kind of decision was, more or less, redundant. Now, before another birthday comes, I feel I need to make that choice and get going. But making the choice between different options is where I come unstuck.

There are many things I love and that fire me up and make my world a brighter place. Some of those things - art, making, photography - are more simple pleasures. They don't cause me too many problems. But the writing that I guess I know is what I really need to commit to is where the fear lives. It's words that have always held me and exercised me and filled my secret corners. The trouble is, I'm not at my happiest whilst lost in words. It's too deep a descent into the world of the hidden, and the excavation of words and meaning is hard. I'm distracted - preoccupied - often lost. It's like being back in the forest and choosing the path that looks the most impenetrable. It may be that I have to exchange the comfort of a gentle, immediate form of happiness for the sort that comes when something hard has been achieved. When fears are faced down and seen off.

There's a small circle of blue breaking through the dense clouds that have suddenly taken away the promise of spring. Enough to make a sailor a pair of trousers my grandmother would say with satisfaction; knowing it was likely that the day would turn out well after all. I have most of this day in front of me and I won't make it better by indulging in yet more circular thought. I think I know what I've got to do. 

 

Sunday
Feb052012

snow 

Even though the sky was thickening we didn't dare get our hopes up. But late afternoon, home from the planetarium and with eyes full of black holes, small flakes began to fall. By evening, the unmistakeable silence that comes with snow had settled and we could relax, knowing it would be enough. Though a few days late. These last years the first snow has fallen during the night before Joel's birthday and that opening of a curtain to unexpected whiteness has been the first present. But it's worth waiting for that day of exhausting sledding down our long hill and snow fights. 

The sun is too warm though for the snow to last. Already, the whole hill has reverted to green though the lake remains weakly frozen. Yesterday, snowed home from school, we watched a heron lifting off from the still-running stream in the stillness of the snow, trailing long, awkward legs.

Today, the garden is busy with birds readying for spring. Looking out on my peaceful, if quietly active garden, with workmen sizing up the fireplace for another wood burner, I'm accommodating the incongruity of listening to a news report of the bombardment of Homs with defiant birdsong still audible amongst the blasts of mortars. It reminds me of the recording of the song of the nightingale in a Surrey garden - not too far from here - through which can be heard the drone of the bombers flying on a raid during the second world war. I'm not sure if that juxtaposition of bird and bomber lifts my heart or makes me despair more.

A male blackbird eyes me through the window as if to inquire about the too-soft grapes that usually make their way outside at around this time. I know I'm grateful to be halfway through an ordinary day with its ordinary preoccupations: supper tonight, schools, the deepening creases at the corners of my eyes. The vague, ungrateful dissatisfaction that my lunchtime bowl of leftover thai-spiced spinach and potato curry was just a little too small for my big hunger today - until sharp lime pickle brought me to my senses. 

I wish you an ordinary day. 

Friday
Jan272012

winter morning

Sipping slightly too hot soup by the stream at lunchtime, I welcomed the bracing, wintery feel to the day. I'm feeling oddly emotional; or rather, full of emotions that I can't quite identify. The intense happiness that I felt this morning on my drive home from school has filtered into something more complicated. Like finding something lost, I retrace my footsteps. I remember the joy of that drive through the narrow lanes with the sun still low and pink in the sky and the air heavy with ice crystals. I remember the pleasure with which I listened to Vikram Seth as I drove. Then I remember what the music made me remember and it occurs that perhaps the answer lies there.

The distinctive voice of Lata Mangeshkar sent me back to a cinema in Kathmandu and the first Bollywood film I'd ever seen. Breathless after the scrum to find a seat, I sipped gratefully from a flask of chai laced with ginger and pepper to try to combat the vicious cough that would only clear when I briefly left the choking pollution of the city for the mountain air two months later. Senses already heightened by my rapidly rising temperature, watching that film was unlike anything I'd known. People clapped, cheered, booed. Walked around, chatted, argued and spread out food. Sang along. I remember my hands on that flask in the dark and my senses singing.

Intense cold, a constant cough, an odd sort of loneliness and a discovery of my own self-reliance are what I remember most from those first weeks. The intensity of that time was greater than the warmer, easier days that came later with familiarity, changing seasons and the arrival of John. An intensity of memory that equals my early days of motherhood: always intertwined because I came back from Nepal pregnant with Joel. 

So when it came to Seth's choice of Bach's Partita for Solo Violin No 3 in E Major, another layer of memory was revealed. One of my favourite pieces and especially so during those odd, intense, exhausting early weeks after Joel's birth when I'd lie on our bed with Joel propped on my knees and we'd gaze at each other, working on our new relationship in the outside world, letting the music fall around us.

Funny things, memories. Now it's time for the drive back to school and I've let the fire go out, so wrapped up have I been. It's the onion, memory. *

 

* Craig Raine

Monday
Oct312011

sunlight on your eyelids

Good morning. And it is good. Sitting outside with my coffee I realised that something felt different: yes, the leaves had yellowed dramatically but it wasn't that. It wasn't even that the grass is so thickly carpeted with yellow and orange leaves that light is reflecting happily upwards. It then struck me that there was a lot more sky and water than normal. After a night of strong winds the tops of the tallest trees are bared and the lower limbs of the trees surrounding the lake have dropped, letting in so much more light. Tilting my closed eyes up to the warmth and brightness, I thought of this song, discovered via Lily and played over and again.

On first hearing, images exploded of my first trip to India. Driving dazed from the airport in a taxi playing bangra. Rolling along the stall-lined, rutted, back streets of coastal Kerala as dusk descended abruptly candles flicked on alongside us, the stars switched on above and woodsmoke wove in front of our headlights. I stuck my head out the window like a crazy mutt, all the better to inhale the scents of smoke, food, dust and dung. The smells of India. Addictive. But then, the scent of dusty pavements drying after rain is heaven to me. My first night in India, not sleeping. In a hut on a cliff above the beach where the incessant crashing of surf mingled with the shouts and songs of fishermen and early morning calls to prayer. And from somewhere, music. In India there is always music.

The colours of an English autumn can't compare with the vivid tones of India but this is our season of yellows and orange. Warm colours reflecting the welcome warmth of the last day of October. Sunlight on your eyelids: it's a good way to start the week. I hope your day - and your week - contains a little sunshine.  

Friday
Oct212011

love and dancing  

 

Some lovely friends married recently in a tiny, private ceremony, a moment all the more joyful to me because it comes after some years and two children. I've written before about the particular romance of long love. To marry early in a relationship is arguably a simpler thing, with the critical tests of love still ahead. To marry years later, with a full understanding of each other and having endured difficult times, is a special symbol of love and hope.

P & A, this song's for you. Dance on!  x

 

Thursday
Oct062011

my my..

Should it ever be a life-saving necessity to sing the entire back catalogue of ABBA I'll be good. My family moved back to England from Canada a couple of summers after ABBA won the Eurovision song contest and their songs were pretty much the only cultural currency I had with new school friends. I knew all the words, came to learn all the dances, and came to understand that my friends only had eyes for Agnetha.

With her guileless eyes, gappy smile and princess hair, Agnetha was friendly and familiar. She striped her eyes with blue and her lips with pink as we did alone in our bedrooms. But in my heart, I secretly yearned for Frida. I also felt daunted by her. Unlike Agnetha, she belonged firmly to the world of adults - a world that both drew me and frightened me. Frida looked like the terrifyingly sophisticated friends of my mother; the ones who held martinis in one ringed hand and coloured-tipped cigarettes in the other and gazed coolly and silently at the shy child before them. No friendly blue daubs for them. They ringed their eyes with kohl and wet their lashes thick with mascara and those eyes seemed to appraise me and find me wanting. 

I yearned for Frida because I wanted a little bit to be like her. I didn't want to be like my mother, or one of her friends, with their messy lives and children they considered a bore. I wanted to be a woman like Frida (my Frida!), who could smile and dance and sing but still maintain a little reserve and control. So not only do the songs of ABBA occupy vital storage space in my brain, they're also involved in my early thoughts about what it means to be a woman. Who says pop is shallow? 

 

Wednesday
Jun222011

perfect moments

 

Do you sometimes find that, in the middle of an otherwise ordinary day, there are little moments of near perfection? Today's little moment came about through lassitude. Idly clicking through my inbox to avoid doing any of the many things on my list I'd prefer not to do, I opened a link to the Toast blog. Did you know they had a blog? News to me. But it's surprisingly interesting, and rather lovely. On it, I discovered a little video of Maria Bosch working in her studio. It's silent, which was what made the whole perfect moment.. perfect. At the time I was listening to one of my favourite pieces, Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel. The rain was falling heavily and audibly through the trees and tapping gently on the windows. It synched gently with the sublime melancholy of Pärt's music and provided the perfect soundtrack to the engrossing dexterity of Bosch's hands working the clay.

Desperate, suddenly, to shape something myself and with my old block of clay lying neglected, poorly wrapped and hard as stone in the shed, I hurled myself at the only thing to hand; a block of white air-dry clay in the craft cupboard. With no aim in mind I formed a few tiny little bowls similar to some we've unearthed in our garden, simply by pressing out the shape with my fingers. They were too hastily made to be lovely and I think we'll gift them back to the garden, but I may try and make some with a little more care. Now to find myself a pottery course. I hope you've had a perfect little moment today.

Friday
Jun172011

desperate measures

Looking onto a steel grey sky with rain pouring straight down and heavy, it seems I need to take matters into my own hands. Gardening being central to our lives, we are friends of rain. We appreciate that each day the world is getting greener. But precious, life affirming blooms are also being defeated and bent sadly towards the ground they spent so much time getting clear of.

So it's out with the secateurs and in with the blooms. A bunch of ludicrously blowsy but delicately fragrant peonies. A few darkly red, modestly proportioned roses that fill a room with their rich perfume by the evening. And last night John brought back the first, intensely fragrant sweet peas. Some have evolved into a particularly attention-seeking neon coral that doesn't seem quite the thing, but for their scent and brightness in the gloom I'll forgive them anything.

I'm also peppering my notebooks with flowers, even digging out the watercolours, inspired by brand new but long lost brushes I found tucked down the back of the desk. Something like this perhaps? And I still have Emin's embroidered flowers urging me to get back to stitching. I have the fabric, the ideas and the thread and, from next week, a little more time.

So, I've determined it will be summer inside if I can't have the real thing. I'll pretend the blazing wood burner is actually a summer campfire and sing along with Minnie (although I'll probably have a bit of a distracted cough when it comes to the difficult up and down bits.)  

Sunday
Jun052011

helpless

Listening absent-mindedly to the online repeat of Desert Island Discs with Floyd's Roger Waters, I was startled to hear Neil Young's Helpless. I'm afraid I was lost then and heard little else as my mind wandered. Very little throws me so quickly to a particular time and place as music - or poetry.

Poetry is a private passion, known only to those who know me really very well. Robert Lowell is one of the first poets I read through choice and treasured more because I first discovered him in my father's own, annotated copies. I read everything I could of his, and all the books about him. I tracked down old vinyl recordings and painstakingly recorded them onto cassettes (remember those?). Hearing his voice for the first time shocked me utterly, it was so counter to the impression I'd formed.  But now, oh joyful interweb, people are putting poetry onto YouTube.

So, glass of wine in hand and vegetables roasting I can listen to Lowell, reading one of his later poems. And reminisce.

 

Monday
May232011

monday morning

 

As a stay-at-home mother, Monday mornings seem unusually quiet. It's about empty beds and full wash-baskets, but also the chance to take time for a quietly indulgent breakfast involving jam (will my extravagance never end?) and a catch up with the weekend papers.

School drop-off today saw all the children being herded into the hall as there was apparently 'a slight smell of gas in the science labs'. Oh. So moving everyone into a building 20 feet away from the science labs offers ideal protection from an impending explosion. 

To take my mind off potential disasters I'm going to play this on repeat while my second pot of coffee brews (once again pushing out the boat of excess). Not the best quality video but who needs boring old clarity when you have fabtastic prints, Cass grooving, Michelle Phillips' beautiful face and a man with tight, stripy trousers? Whether you're at home or at work, happy monday to you.

 

 

 

Sunday
May222011

reasons to be cheerful (part 3)

 

Rainbows. Fleeting and elusive, revealing the ultimate beauty and complexity of light, they seem like such a gift. I remember my 12th birthday, walking home from school with friends as a double rainbow appeared directly over our heads.  We stood awhile in awed silence, arms around each other. 

So here's to summer days making rainbows with sprays of water and hunting them down in sudden summer showers.

 

 

Thursday
May122011

nostalgia

Sometimes I'm caught out by a photo or a letter that slips out of a 'strictly in the past' album shelved out of reach amidst a tangle of gift bags that accumulate dustily. Today it was music. Two tracks that shuffled next to each other and sent me back to another lifetime. And the clouds gathered over my house and, for a while, the rain fell in bursts. Actually, not metaphorically. Weather and music combined synchronistically to induce a rush of nostalgia that took my breath away.

Now the sun's out again and I have a school cake sale to attend and swimming to cheer on, and risotto ingredients to buy and prepare. And life continues on.

 

 

Monday
Mar282011

good morning

Do you have a sense of how the day will unfold before you've even opened your eyes? My checklist starts the moment I begin to surface: have I slept well - do I smell burning toast (or worse, the smell of old burning crumbs) - what's with the noise? - is it raining? Then there's a nebulous sense of uneasy discomfort that's sometimes present, as expressed in Jenny Holzer's plaque. It's funny and true and self-indulgent so I typed it out and have it propped to remind me, maybe, to chill.

Once I'm up the worst is over. Unless there's no milk for coffee (or worse, no coffee) or we have visitors and I'm expected to speak, smile and make breakfast all at once. But there are things that reliably make for a good morning. Sitting outside is one of them - in silence, with coffee and an egg or two, sourdough toast or, on a weekend, a warmed croissant. The iron tang of a frosty morning is as appealing to me as the wet green of a spring day and with a bit of air, warm coffee and diverting birdly antics, I'll be happier by the minute.

Then there is light. The low slant of a winter morning or hot yellow of a hot summer day are the spurs I need to get up and get out. I stalk light around the house with my camera. It's elusive, forcing me to work fast and, at the same time, to look.  

A good morning is a fine thing. What do you need to make your morning sing? I'd love to know. Meanwhile, I'll wish you a good day and leave you with Joni.