Ramblings and adventures


Christmas, New Year, Winter, Summer and so on. Do the trees celebrate? Do the foxes and tawny owls have an annual shindig? Not quite – that falls to humans. It’s only natural that we observe the magnificence of nature and her wondrous cycle and celebrate accordingly. Regardless of which date and tradition you choose to pin it to, there is a lower ebb in the year which is deeply symbolic and significant. The Americans of course and their buffoon puppet annexes (including England) turn it into a period of epic cataclysmic idiocy and greed epitomised by queuing up outside large barren stores to buy meaningless rubbish on one particular Friday.

The Nordic tradition is more humble – a simple gathering of friends and family and exchange of modest gifts. Quality feasting and at the very least a nod to the ancient mysterious traditions from whence it all came.

Personally I favour the latter. We are after all of Celtic stock, what with our blonde hair and hints of ginger in our beards (the boys that is). Reality dictates a hybrid, but this year we managed to assimilate less crap than usual.

Meanwhile the ranch carries on as normal and the winter work is flexible and forgiving. The grey misty pall is comforting and it remains mild. It’s tree planting and transplanting time but there’s plenty of leeway – the trees are dormant all winter. I’m emptying the little nursery at the top to plant brassicas in spring. The bigger whips are going into gaps in the hedge and the smaller one’s are going into the tree nursery at the bottom – hawthorn, dog rose and goat willow. I’m waiting for some new stock to arrive. I’ve adapted the traditional permaculture model of a ‘food forest’ to include a food hedge. The small orchard at the bottom is developing into a mini food forest but then it extends to the inner hedge which is interspersed with fruit bushes and trees. Harvesting requires a wander right round the outside of the field, which is no bad thing.

Only the the horse-muck shifting is relentless and it remains a metaphor for the whole bigger picture – Lotus from the dark mud and all that shit – stupidly, I still get stressed about it. What if, for the first time ever I wasn’t able to do it? What if I got sick? Who would do it? It’s OK though, there are people about who get it, and would happily help.

I’m convinced that growing local food (and art) will become more important than ever in the economic times ahead. I’d like to share what I’ve learned and maybe orchestrate a project that is bigger than the sum – all those drifting threads are poised to weave a tough canvas and sail into the quiet revolution.

Wintry view

Already comfrey shoots are showing. Even in the dead of winter, there’s a slow trickle of salad leaves and spinach from the trays under the lean-to. There are buds growing on the sea buckthorn cuttings. We had some delicious parsnip soup the other day made from stuff I’d grown including some chilli powder to give it bite. Even at this time of year I can make meals where I’ve grown over half of the ingredients. There’s no doubt that there’s a clean food revolution happening. My primary experiment has always been to see if I could live off the stuff I grow (including trading and bartering). By default, without any huffing or puffing or ethical debate, it would be vegan. However, I’d never say I was vegan – I don’t like sectarian labels.

The current vegan movement is different to the earlier one in the 70s and 80s. The earlier one was associated with anarchist bands like Crass and Chumbawamba and in my experience centred around dull squiffy-fart inducing veg stews. Now the choice is amazing and it’s entirely possible to have a delicious varied diet. I asked a couple of my friends from the first wave why they gave up veganism. My brother said that he was just fed up of the crusty lifestyle and wanted a normal life. Boff said that it just got too difficult particularly when on tour and that it’s much easier to be vegetarian without sticking out. He told me about a film maker who spent time with indigenous people such as the Innuit. Although she was vegetarian, she had no qualms about joining in with their diet as the circumstances dictated. I get that. On the rare occasions that I go out for a meal, I’ll eat what the fuck I fancy and please spare me the twat-phrase flexitarian.

Pragmatic large-scale food production without the involvement of animals is a non-starter. The issue is the mass breeding of animals for killing at the expense of the sustainability of the land. Large scale soya bean production also affects land adversely if it’s not done sustainably.

Apart from a brief reluctant trip to Aldi over the Christmas period, I haven’t been in a supermarket for ages. I don’t care for perfect uniformly sized fruit and veg wrapped in plastic any more – I don’t care what the label says – I don’t trust it. That applies to all the heavily processed pseudo-meat crap too. Tofurkey FFS. What’s the point?

Rock & Roll

I’ve found my stride and it’s good. When the book came out last year, I thought that I would go out and do little gigs comprising reading and talking and playing songs from the album. I reckoned that recording an album to go with the book might give me an edge on other ‘authors’.

The kind American publishing lady told me that the album was superfluous really and that the book stood on its own, but nevertheless the gigs provide an over-arching vehicle for what constitutes my particular brand of art – namely a magical garden from which grows food; punk infused Rock & Roll; illustration in the form of woodblock printing; writing and so on.

This year is a new chapter. Chapter one was me on my own on the ranch for decades, working out the basics. Chapter two began on the winter solstice and simply involves opening the door and inviting other people in. We’re only 3 weeks in and it’s already a quiet whirlwind. This is the year when all those serendipitous threads weave together and form a canvas – sailing towards the quiet revolution.

Whether it’s me doing my thing or Boff and Commoners Choir or Josh skateboarding in Palestine or Emma at acting school in Philadelphia we’re all singing from the same different hymn sheet – it’s all about storytelling – stories of human endeavour and passion, for the enrichment of others’ lives.

Gaz, Eamonn and I are still rehearsing regularly. I thought I was too old and weary to start another band but I was wrong. How sweet that it’s come full circle and Gaz and I are still at it all those years after Notsensibles started when we were still children. Boff and Casey have the great idea to go round photographing people from the North-East Lancs punk scene forty years on to find out how the movement shaped their lives. I’m tagging along and we’re tying it in with Mid-Pennine Arts Pendle Radicals project. Exhibition? Gigs? Maybe even a book. Exciting. Mid-Pennine Arts were instrumental in the success of the early Notsensibles, so it’s all beautifully apt.

Gaz & Sage - Notsensibles at Deeply Vale

I finished the folk song and recorded it last night using one microphone and an acoustic guitar. I set the camera up in the corner but I look like gollum so I’ve used a picture of The Golden Lion instead. I’ve always been such a foul music snob and I’ve only ever played electric guitar (apart from my classical guitar busking days). A few years ago I bought a cheap Chinese built Guild (because I love Mississippi John Hurt and he played a Guild). Conventional acoustic guitar strings are too thick for me so I walked down to the music shop on the corner to buy some electric guitar strings to put on it.

Who should be in there but WAKA. He runs the Golden Lion in Tod (and he’s mentioned in the book). The song was going to be called Take me to Todmorden which is a bit twatty – it mentions Tod and the Goldion Lion and The old Burnley Road. What a bizarre coincidence that WAKA has just travelled the old Burnley road from The Golden  Lion – the year is already bursting with omens aplenty. I was born in Tod and the song of course is a metaphor for coming to terms with things from the past. I was struggling for a last line then I came across Rumi’s exquisite poem The Guest House via a friend. I love finishing a song and recording it straight away – it’s here

The Golden Lion
Recording The Guest House

Christmas and New Year was lovely. I worked the early on Christmas Day and there was the usual enhanced sense of camaraderie. There was tons of nice food and a hot Christmas dinner. There’s a lot of love in that place. I still can’t believe that they’ve accepted a gobshite like me. I am of course the village idiot, but that’s fine.

There is arguably no working environment more stressful than the emergency department and sadly there are often ill-health consequences. I’ve been supremely lucky in being able to step off the conveyor belt when the alarm bells ring and thankfully I just have a few minor frays around the edges, the worst being tinnitus.

Hypothetically speaking, if I did have a problem, I’d deal with it as usual, in the hardest possible way. It would be like a Ken Loach film. They’d send me to a clinic. They’d ask me to do a test and I’d politely tell them that I couldn’t physically do it. They would then ignore me for three agonisingly uncomfortable hours whilst I watched a load of knackered old blokes shuffling past. Finally they would take me into a room where a very junior trainee practitioner would ask ‘So, why are you here today?’  I’d think to myself  ‘Seriously bitch? Why the fuck do you think I’m here?’ Of course I wouldn’t say that – I’d be my usual shy polite self. A jolly consultant would then tell me that I needed an urgent operation and I’d get a letter a couple of weeks later to go into hospital. Fine, but my intuition would be telling me that something else was going on. Besides, it would be the height of May – Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer’s lease hath all too short a date. Sadly, a comrade would suffer a tragedy and would need my help so I would cancel the operation.

Hypothetically I would then endure three years of misery where a good day would just be uncomfortable and a bad day would be sheer fucking hell. I would see four different consultants and I’d keep saying ‘Yes, but there’s something else going on’. In the end I would be right and grateful for sticking to my minority of one principles. ‘Looking through the window backwards way in.’ ‘Doctor heal yourself – somebody rescue me.’ The snivelling side of me would think ‘shouldn’t the medical profession look after its own?’ But then the hardened side of me would know that every day’s a school day and those lessons are there for me to learn from.

2-4-6 – clear liquids – solid food. I won’t even be hungry. I’ve never relinquished control of my consciousness to anybody before – there’s a first time for everything I suppose. I’m scared.

I gave up drinking and all the associated slob paraphernalia - I'm seven days in. On day one (which was last Sunday afternoon - my most important chill out winetastic time of the week), Trinli and Gwen came to the ranch. Trinli spent 5 years on an island retreat as a Buddhist monk. After we'd walked round the field, we lit the stove. Trinli sat in the corner and announced that he was going to bless the land. he told Gwen and I to talk amongst ourselves and we twittered on about growing and cooking food and running a food business (Gwen is a chef). Trinli produced some oblong cards and a rosary and chanted away quietly for twenty minutes in Tibetan.

After he'd finished, I mentioned giving up drinking and the subject turned to addiction. Trin pointed out that in order to give up an addiction, there has to be something of  greater value to replace it. Well there is. There's something deep in my heart that won't go away and I need as much clarity as I can muster. Still I'm struggling - it's nearly wine-o-clock.

On day two, when my old self realised that I might be serious, an argy-bargy storm assaulted my head and I didn't sleep a wink - rage, indignation, disappointment. The twat demons were giving it both barrels. I was scared because I had to go to work. Instead of being my usual half hour early, I did 15 minutes meditation before I went and I was actually fine. On day three, I still didn't sleep but it didn't matter because I didn't have to get up the next morning. This time a load of positive energy came out and my writing conundrum was solved. I have two books to write. The first is in effect chapter 2 of Painting Snails, again written prospectively over 12 months and the second is the novel - Gunman, bowman.

This is the time of the year when several bourgeois Guardian cunts publish their 'self-help' books. 'I was a snivelling self-indulgent nob, but then I got my shit together - buy my book and read about my wonderful diet and exercise regime - learn all about my holistic wellness plan'. Fuck off. Of course I'm just as bad as them.

New Year was wonderful. I resolutely stuck to my guns and avoided having a NYE party, thus breaking a tradition that began when the kids were small. Boff & Casey's niece Emma was over from America and we got invited to their house so that solved that problem. In the end though, at the very last minute, Sam and Tyler and Matt and co were over mooching about aimlessly and I relented and said that they could have a party at our house whilst we were in Otley. Spider came with us to Boff's and we had a lovely time. I took a bunch of Northern 7s and played a few.

We got home about 1.30 and the party at our house was in full swing. I played my hard grinding funk 7s and strayed into disco - Ronnie Keaton, Bobby Rush, Betty Wright, Bee Gees, Donna Summer. I danced the way I'm designed to dance - like a puppet suspended from invisible strings with my feet touching the ground occasionally. I looked around and with the exception of me, Louise and Spider, everyone was Sam and Elias's age and I was quietly overjoyed that this bunch, amongst whom I felt so utterly comfortable, still want to come to our house and hang around with us.

I sipped my way through a bottle of sparkly and when Hannah mentioned that she had a bass, I insisted on teaching her how to play it. I grabbed the Verithin bass from the corner, with a string missing and showed her the rudiments. I then had the brilliant idea to get the bow and arrows out and fire at cardboard boxes in the back yard. At the end of the party, I was the last one awake and by the time I went to bed, it was fully daylight.

I was up again at 1.30 - it was a brilliant sunny day and the sky was incandescent blue. Hannah and I walked to the top of the field. I was in one of those still-pissed-from-the-night-before moods, gibbering away incessantly. At the mere mention of archery, I ended up telling her the Buddha's life story and lent her Eugene Herrigel's wonderful Zen in the art of archery. We have another 7" singles night at the 160 on the 19th. Back home, and amongst the left over booze was a nearly full bottle of champagne. I had a splendid chilled afternoon.

St Stephen's church - New Years Day
Top of field - New Years Day

The day before NYE, there was a match on and Boff came over with Emma. When Boff went on the match, Emma and I went up to the ranch. On the way up we heard a loud cheer signifying a Burnley goal. We had a vague notion to do some filming for a potential music video (we made one four years ago) Before setting off, we went through the dressing up bags. She chose a blonde bob wig and I chose my trusty go-to mullet.

I told her about my forming song idea, observing the notion that humanity is a spectrum and that maybe it's not always useful to medicalise every single aspect of it. The chorus is 'We're all on the spectrum of humanity' and the backing track will be heavy funk bordering on disco.

We got the tractor out for Emma to drive, but then it stalled and wouldn't start again - I wanted to film a scene with her driving and me dancing in the transporter box attached to the back - I foolishly left it idling too slowly and it sounded like the fuel line got blocked. We improvised. We had to tie the camera to the tripod with a piece of string because the fitting was wrong. We danced in the twilight to our imaginary tune, with the hum of the match below us, using the tractor, a wheelbarrow and a fork as props. We had one last go at starting the tractor and it worked, so she got to drive it after all.

Sage & Emma dancing in field
Sage & Emma dancing in field

Painting Snails - the first book