Sun 4th Feb 2018 - computer at home
It's been wet wet wet all winter. Even the sloping field is waterlogged in places. I'm trying to develop one of those fancy permaculture farmlets - sustainable, regeneration, harnessing technology etc. The trouble is, it's on a hillside above a North-Western town - it's not California FFS. It's not Kent. It's sloping and windy and clay-claggy. Winter is like rowing round the coastline against the tide and being swept backwards - you have to have the faith and foresight to believe that the tide will eventually turn and that all those winter jobs will pay dividends.
The biggest job is sorting out the hedge and fencing - pruning, repairing, planting. In permaculture you plant hedges and mini-forests but with food plants that look after themselves and maintain the soil fertility. This year I've had help from Sam, Bryn and Dewy. I can't do it all on my own any more. Most of the pruning is done and we've repaired a big section of fence. I have a little tree nursery where there are about twenty or so Hazel, hawthorn and dog rose to go out - all planted from seed. I've ordered a few fancy permaculture plants as well. The biggest relentless job is horse-shit shifting - about a barrow-load a day direct from Linda's horse next door - I empty it regularly and maintain my waistline. I put it on top of the beds in the field - by spring it will be full of worms. The books tell you that it has to be rotted down for a year or so but it seems to be fine as it is. The catkins were out mid-January and there's a hawthorn in leaf near the top of the field - surely that's very early?
I go to the ranch every day that I'm not going to The Dirty Old town (I'm part of a different kind of ranch over there).I did have a day off over Christmas. Rain or shine, I head out of the door turn left then left again - across the rough estate - up the hill - across the road - under the railway bridge - up the track - into the original allotment - up to the top - out of the door into the field - up to the top of the field and there it is - that magnificent view. Herein lies the revolution - cutting out all those dodgy middle-men. We're just eating up the last of the potatoes and there's still quite a bit of garlic left. We're self-sufficient for beetroot and jam. There was a woman on telly saying that getting outdoors was good for her mental health. No shit Sherlock. I got a cold on Christmas day after too much indoor slobbing about - it lasted two days. I'm utterly convinced that sustained outdoorness is the most powerful of health protectors. No doubt some twat will do a research project on it one day and make it Official. Even a couple of generations ago, growing food within walking distance of your house was an integral part of society. Still, a lot of people see it as an indulgent hippy fad. Meanwhile, a huge proportion of the food in shops is ultra-processed. California is devastated and Cape Town has no water.
I accidentally completed part of a shed. The back of the lean-to in the top left-hand corner of the original allotment has a tiny raised floor and platform. I designed it before I got the field and the idea was for it to be a mini-greenhouse-propagator area. like all the other demi-sheds, it was half-completed with just the back and side filled in with discarded double-glazed windows. I was drying some comfrey and borage seeds up there, when one day a pair of stray racing pigeons moved in uninvited and unannounced and started eating all the seeds. I didn't really want them there - they attract rats and other pigeons, so I ended up filling in the gaps with more double-glazed windows. The stove-pipe goes up through the middle. I decided to finish it completely and lined all the corrugated metal sheeting walls with tongue-and-groove. I filled the gaps with straw for insulation. Now it's like a little gypsy caravan. I could theoretically stay there next time I have a tantrum and run away from home.
On the other ranch, we have been struggling - the same story as the rest of the UK - no beds, ambulance crews queueing up for hours to unload, trolleys lining the corridors, huge staff shortages and a massive cohort of junior doctors dropping off the conveyor belt thanks to the vile *unt's forced contract. When it was getting unbearably bad a few weeks ago, *unt and Teresa rescued us. They cancelled all non-urgent operations and then they apologised - phew thank goodness for that. It made us all feel so much better. When I was fighting corruption and bullying at the old place, I tongue-in-cheekly invented The *unt Register and the UCA (Ultimate *unt award). When *unt and Teresa gave us their vacuous bullshit, it became necessary to invent the COC awards. (*unt of the Century). The NHS is being irrevocably privatised for profit right under our noses. Signing petitions and going on demonstrations is of little value.
There is a straightforward way to bring the corrupt profiteers down, yet it's so difficult to get across. Here it is anyway in a nutshell: Governments are the second or third tier of a pyramid of vastly rich and powerful people; The top tiers are the banking system and the huge multi-nationals; The banking system is a house of cards - it's an illusion - when its own gargantuan greed and corruption almost destroyed it in the summer of 2007, Gordon Brown was on the verge of calling in the army - people were queueing down the street to close their Northern Rock bank accounts. It took the government everything in their power to prevent the collapse of the entire illusory banking system - they then had the phenomenal arrogance to make the taxpayer bail them out. The solution is to close our accounts and move to the less profiteering alternatives - credit unions and so on. It would require a very well-orchestrated campaign by the thousands of incensed NHS workers and users. On each day, there would be a queue of people closing their bank accounts. The same would happen online. Every participant would write to the bank, their MP and the local press. The rough framework of the letter would be something like:
Dear such and such a bank
My local Healthcare Trust has an annual budget of four hundred million pounds. At the beginning of each tax year a staggering sixteen percent of this is paid to a private finance initiative IN INTEREST ALONE. Sixty percent of this interest is paid to your bank - that's thirty eight million pounds. Whereas I accept the fact that an institution as vast as the NHS requires the input of a financial institution, I object strongly to the fact that a huge chunk of taxpayers' money is being paid by you to offshore funds which are of no benefit whatsoever to NHS workers and users.
I am therefore closing my bank account. In doing so, I am also taking the opportunity to publicise your funding of fracking and the arms trade etc, etc....
Rock & Roll
It's business as usual. We're doing the same as ever - rehearsing and recording in the back room, playing small gigs, printing our own record sleeves, doing the odd bit of DJing and writing. It's the same but it's different - somehow, something has quietly clicked into place.
I have a life of two halves. Before the 24th November 2017 and after. On that day 25 large boxes were delivered to the door, each containing 40 books. It's a nice-looking book - easy on the eye and so I'm told, easy to read. Every single square millimetre from front to back is carefully thought out - I've been doing that branch of arty stuff for years so a lot of it came naturally. Other aspects didn't come naturally and it was like wading through treacle in a bleak wilderness.
Still, I did it - I wrote a book - it took a long time, but I did it. 'You MUST pay someone to design the cover for you.' 'You can't do it without an agent.' 'Send it to this publisher, sent it to that publisher.' Bollocks. It's just like the ranch - the same simple revolutionary truth. Cut out the middle men. It's a simple idea. Allotment ramblings and anecdotes about music and other stuff. It was originally supposed to be over the course of a year but it became more like five years. Regularly writing became a habit and in the end a few unplanned threads wove their way in: my dad; fighting bullies; The Dirty Old Town. I couldn't have done it all on my own. I sent out a lot of draft copies to friends and only a handful actually gave constructive critisicm - Taff in particular. Above all though, my brother came to the rescue. He patiently and repeatedly proofread successive drafts and made lots of succinct editing suggestions - he insisted on adding the subtitle to the cover.
The most difficult part was the last stretch between receiving the first printer's proof and approving the final final draft - so much tweaking and re-tweaking. It was relatively late on that I decided to illustrate the book. Cutting the woodblock illustrations took a long time. Recording an album to go with the book was also a later idea. I had the noble notion of playing all the songs live - just me and guitar and two microphones. I did it - it took a lot of practising but I just didn't like the end result - I sounded too much like a folk twat. The puritan 3-piece format is in the blood - it's so versatile - quiet as a mouse or full-on blistering punky Rock & Roll. Bish kept saying 'You're better off doing it on your own', but he relented. We recorded it in 3 sessions. I added the video backing tracks for Good Job, Proper Job and PARK KEEPER at the end - They're both mentioned in the book - in fact all the songs are relevant to the book and most of them are mentioned.
I'd decided that when the book came back from the printer's, I would emerge from my reclusive lifestyle and get out there and promote it. Having the album to go with it is a big advantage because I can play the songs live and talk about the book in between. I'm on tour and the goal is to carry on until all 1000 books have gone. It's not a tour in the traditional sense - I'm just playing anywhere and everywhere - wherever the opportunity arises - I'm approaching literary festivals too. I'm determined to do it as face-to-face as possible so the priorities are: 1. Face to face - gigs, radio sessions. 2. Sending actual books out (journalists etc). 3. The internet, which I have to admit is enormously useful.
It's harder than I anticipated but so far it's going well. Bish has put together a little spartan gold-sparkle drumkit especially for the purpose - 50s Ajax. It looks and sounds awesome. He has his drum stool as high as it will go so he's almost standing up - it looks quite comical. So far we've done six gigs and we've another six lined up. I'm using our little hand-built amp that we've all been using for the last five years and it sounds awesome. In fact Sam and I are finally going into business building them. I'm more comfortable playing live than ever before.
Last night's was the best so far. Karl played bass with us - he's on all the VINCENT BLACK LIGHTNING records. We played at the Tapster's Promise in Colne. It was Peach's Grump Club and we both DJed. We set up with the band in a tiny crowded corner and played. I was apprehensive because it was a noisy pub and was worried about playing the quieter songs. When Notsensibles were going, our background was the Northern punk scene (infinitely superior to the poncy Southern version). One band in particular was deeply etched into our musical consciousness - we had all the records and knew all the words - we shared the same Hey Fuckface mentality. The death of grivet grumpy has reminded us of the need for that visceral Northern spleen. Last night some of that came across in the second half of the set - we played John's Favourites, the song I wrote about them years ago and we played PARK KEEPER live for the first time. We finished with Notsensibles' Sick of Being Normal. It went really well and I sold a few books and CDs.
It's not just about promoting the book - it's all the other surrounding stuff too - the value of localised arty aspirations as a glue for a caring society - it's a slow process but it's quietly building - lots of little serendipitous threads are weaving together. It's also bringing attention to previous musical ventures - in particular the wonderful NOTSENSIBLES and The the STRANGE. Sam and Bryn have a new band (The Weregulls), and we're doing a few gigs together over the next couple of months.
There were originally 25 boxes in the hall and now there are 19. I've had one good review and I'm at the stage where I have a good chance of getting a publisher. That's not the point though - I'm my own publisher. I'm an orchestrator and the biggest goal is to use what I've learned so far to benefit the loved ones locally. Maybe we'll have the first Sagefest next year.
The van sits tawdrily outside the front door sadly neglected. It would be so easy to get rid of - ever since I got the Smithymobile, I've hardly used it. It was pumping exhaust fumes into the cab via the rusted through heat exchangers but I've fixed that now and it's running well. I'm playing at two festivals this summer, so hopefully it will come into its own again. The tractor is a joy - It's 64 years old! I start it every few weeks and drive it round the field. Eventually I'd like a trailer and a grass topper for it. Right, I'm off to the ranch for couple of hours then back for Sunday afternoon chill time - vino, Countryfile, the warm stove and Sunday dinner. Exciting times - it's time to share the supreme good fortune.