Thursday, 30 July 2009

In God's Afterimage

Schools (with Ashley Hutchings)

Tuesday 23rd June. Springcroft School, Staffordshire.

One of the schools in which Ashley I work every year. For me it’s marked by Bernadette, the Head of the school - well, more marked by the fact she was once an Olympic cyclist; I can’t help but be impressed by such things.
There’s something about spending so much time on the road that is diametrically opposed to any level of physical fitness to speak of; I’m not sure what it does for your emotional fitness also. 

When I’m spending time at home I do reasonably well at staying active - visiting the gym three or four times a week, and in the summer months golf plays a fairly large part in my life - regularly spoiling a good walk. I’d love to be able to play golf to a very high standard, in fact if I were to have my time again–which I wouldn’t want, to tell you the truth–but if I did, I don't mind the idea of being a professional golfer; that, as well as a doctor or an airline pilot. 

Anyway, as things stand I’m presently not so bad on the guitar, so I’ll get on with that for the time being.

Nicol & Cool

Thursday 2nd June. Assembly Rooms, Derby.

If I check my records, I see it was only six weeks and three days ago I walked onto the Assembly Rooms stage with those legends of folk rock - yes, you know the ones.
On April 18th we played the main stage; tonight we, Phil and I, play on the other stage; it is, well lets say - cosier. 
As we perform our carefully selected set to our very select crowd we are being well and truly dwarfed be the event taking place in the other part of the theatre, the main part I mentioned earlier. It’s a major production based on the history of Derby County football club, with some of the clubs personalities and players of past and present in attendance. If you are not all that familiar with the support and general sway towards the game of football in this area of the East Midlands, I can reliably inform you that it is considerable. 

Derby County has a very rich history, as does my club - Preston North End; however, despite Derby’s very questionable recent fortunes, they still can expect a large turnout of fans at any given match, very unlike - Preston North End. 

Jim (who by coincidence is from Derby) and I found ourselves deep in discussion on our final descent and approach towards the Assembly Rooms, on the topic of why such a contrast should exist in this tale of two cities. 
Jim believed it was down to a gradual expansion of the city itself, not one that necessarily creates more urban areas, but rather gathers up the already outlying ones, creating a bigger populous with a more collective identity. 
It’s not easy for me to comment on these things, I haven’t spent time on the subject; Jim, however, has a considerable background in politics, and I would suppose that politics concerns itself very much with things like boundaries, and how many people live within them.

What I do know is that the show next door could have, according to the theatre staff, been sold out a number of times.
Hmm, lets see; maybe it’s time to introduce one or two football songs into the act?

Nicol & Cool

Friday 3rd June. Porkies Folk Club, Poynton, Manchester. 

A well know club that has been a venue of somewhat venerable proportions for as long as there’s been a folk scene. I played the club first in a solo capacity at the age of forty or thereabouts; it was a sensational night; I was taken completely by surprise by how well the evening went, and I was never quite able to repeat it.

Sometime later I went on to play Porkies with Chris While, and also a number of times with the Albion Band. The final Albion Band show I played here was actually on the day my Father died in 2001. Now that’s something - performing on the day you lose a parent, let me tell you. All I wanted was for everyone to stop telling me how sorry they were. That’s about all I remember of that evening; I just went into ‘coping mode’ - as is what happens at times like this.

I also recall the night I performed at the club’s old venue just down the road in Bramhall; it was 1996. I struggled a great deal with confidence, or lack of it, around that time, and the result of this often was the most incredible tension. I was constantly walking into one situation after the next - gigs, recording sessions, and the like, that I felt completely unable to pull off.
I was so terrified of fucking up that the amount of energy I used in attempting to appear as though I was in control was exhausting and debilitating.
 I remember arriving at the club feeling quite out-of-it; my psyche was in a knot; inside I was a frozen man; it was as though there was a film going on in front of me, and I was just the observer. All the time my thoughts were, ‘I have a whole show to do tonight, and have no idea of how I’ll do it, but there’s no choice’.

I forced my way through the two sets, each of fifty minutes or thereabouts in length. When I was finished, any potential sense of relief that I may have had struggled to break through the ever purveying feeling of defeat and disappointment of perceived failure.

I loaded the PA into the back of my car, and whilst doing so I noticed a trail that followed anything that was bright and had any motion to it; it was a stream, a tail of light. When I moved my hand slowly in one direction or another, there appeared to be a second hand trying to catch up with the first.
I used to call these visual occurrences, or illusions: afterimages; they were something I’d originally experienced during an absolutely wonderful and idyllic time back in 1970, when as a nineteen year old I spent the summer months fruit picking in Evesham, Worcestershire. 

Friend, Paul Daber and myself had what I can only describe as the time of our lives; living and working in the orchards, sleeping in the barns; befriending the travellers and gypsies, and me being a bit of a local guitar hero.

When August had arrived, and the fruit picking season was almost done, the two of us hitch-hiked our way further south, down to the legendary Isle of White Festival, the one at which Hendrix performed shortly before his death. 

It was during this period I first experienced the ‘afterimage’ phenomenon; it was most certainly drug related; on the handful of occasions when we took LSD, the spectacle of any moving object having this trailing blurred image of itself following behind was all part of the spectacle and adventure of the experience.

I recall one such day when I was fixated, mesmerised by the sight of an army of ants on the pavement; individually they moved - this way, that way, and with such purpose; each one of them followed by lines, tracers, that shot off in all directions.
The second time these afterimages became an unavoidable feature of my life was during my panic attacks and breakdown a couple of years later after I’d moved to London. This time they were terrifying - further justifying my view of impending catastrophe and the feeling of losing any grasp of the reality I thought I had.

Now they were back, shit!
Something was happening, something was going on in my head; was it physical? Was all this stress and fear just burning me out?
On the drive home I noticed a strange shape in my vision, a crystal-like shape; and my range of vision seemed to be narrowed; there was something different about the cars on the other side of the road, as if they were not really there.

Apart from tiredness, the following two days–Saturday and Sunday–were reasonably OK; I had to travel to Cumbria where a friend of a friend had hired me for the weekend to teach her husband some guitar (as a birthday gift). 
Then, on the Monday - BANG! My head hurt - big style; it was just on one side, but it was bad. I looked in the mirror; the pupil in my left eye was tiny, and not responding to darkness or light. Yes, I was worried!
I was too frightened to go to a doctor; it was probably a good fifteen years since I last saw one. But after three days in bed, as a compromise, Carol instructed me to visit the optician. And what did the optician do? He sent me to the doctor. Then I was sent to the hospital.

By this time I was convinced I was dying. They carried out all kinds of tests, x-rays, etc.
One young doctor told me I had something, it was one of those Latin names; it sounded serious, and he even said he was sorry. 
These hospital visits continued until the day I was to see a neurologist; as I waited, full of fear, I decided it was to be my last visit. I knew I’d feel better if I had a sense of being in control.

I walked into the consultancy room to be confronted by an array of people, with the consultant sat in the foreground. He asked me if I minded these people being there–I did–but I said ‘no’.
They were all scribbling things down into notepads. The chair I sat on became the slide on a giant microscope, and I was the subject.

I knew had to get out. 

He tapped me here and there; listened to what might be going on inside me through a stethoscope; shone a light into my eyes - all this while using words I didn’t understand, and discussing my symptoms with someone I assume was his junior. 

It was encouraging in a way to be told that he disagreed with the original diagnosis - even though I didn’t understand what it was. 

Then he said I should, just to be sure, have a brain scan! I said, ‘no thanks’.
I had already decided I would rather walk away and accept whatever the consequences might be. It was, in retrospect, probably quite foolish of me, but hey - here I am. 

And I’m still playing at Porkies.

Nicol & Cool

Saturday 4th June. Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester & North Merseyside, Bamber Bridge, Preston.

This is a private event - a 40th anniversary celebration, and mercifully one that involves a mere drive of fifteen minutes to reach. 
I didn’t even know this place existed; it’s in lovely surroundings. I learned that this general woodland area was nurtured and developed by finance received as part of a deal reached with the very people that built the M6 motorway that runs adjacent. 
Here a link to the web page: Cuerden_Valley_Park

The celebration was for Ken and Sara Linford; Ken was also a partner of Jim Minall’s – for other reasons I should add – and for a much briefer length of time. They were creators and partners at Friends of Folk for a while, parting company not that long ago - and on extremely amicable terms I should say.
The two of them (Ken and Jim) are the political antithesis of each other, being respectively about as ‘right’ and as ‘left’ as you can possibly get without warfare breaking out. Jim was actively involved for a good number of years in the Labour Party; raising funds, campaigning door to door, and generally promoting the principles he believed in - those of fairness and equality.
Ken, however, over the years has been actively involved in developing various business enterprises, and creating a good deal of prosperity for himself. 

The one common denominator that seemed to override all their differences–for a while, at least–was their shared liking of folk music, and in particular Steeleye Span, in fact that’s where they met - at a Steeleye concert.
So they decided to promote concerts; to give more exposure to the artists that in their eyes were, and the music that was, being sadly neglected by the outside world. For this reason alone, they get my vote.

Jim, as you will have gathered from all my previous writings, gets Phil and I almost all our work.

Two days ago I received an email from Ken and Sara’s Daughter; she lives in Japan, and works as a missionary. This I can honestly say was the very first time I’ve had any communication of any kind from one of God’s messengers!
She asked me to read out a personal message to her parents congratulating them on their anniversary - and I enjoyed doing that on the night.

I was so struck by what Sara said when I talked to her at the very end of the night just before I left; she told me that her Daughter had lived in Japan for the last five years, and that she will continue her work there for ‘as long as God wants her to’.
The look of certainty on her face, and her comfortableness with the statement she’d made was, to me - striking.
Well, it's always possible that I read more into this than was actually the case, but as with Olympic cycling, I couldn’t help but be impressed - impressed more than anything, on the basis of imagining how I would be feeling whilst those words were passing my lips - if I ever did utter such words.
Before I go on, don’t imagine for one minute that I’m working my way towards an argument that is in anyway critical of such a statement; a smug, I know better than you sort of statement–or even implication. It's just that I don’t know how someone could know such a thing.

How does God tell you what to do?
I do a lot of soul searching; I tend to believe that there is an inner voice; one that knows and tells us what we should do.
Whether one listens to it, and whether or not one acts on what the voice is telling you, is not the point just now; but is this ‘inner’ voice perhaps easily, and maybe even mistakenly, interpreted as an ‘outer’ voice?
And let’s turn that around and say that even if it is an ‘outer’ voice that’s being wrongly interpreted as an ‘inner’ voice, why would it be God that’s saying it?

If I were reading this as something that had been written by someone else, I would logically be asking who or what the writer thinks God is.
I mean, if one actually thinks there’s an invisible person - THE invisible person HIMSELF, and he’s talking personally to YOU, then I am truly, genuinely and absolutely intrigued by the criteria used to reach this conclusion and the supposed certainty that seems to come with it.

We have little alternative but to represent all of our feelings and abstract senses with symbols of familiarity - and we only know ‘form’ in a way we have had experience of with some level of tangibility attached. This, of course, changes and develops as humans change and develop; but at any given time there are only so many symbols available to us. For example, many people these days who profess a religeous belief, would not use a male symbol to represent God, just as they wouldn't use the symbol of a throne in the sky as something 'he' sat on all day; but imagine how problematic it would have been once upon a time to profess such thoughts!

So I could have said to Sara, “what exactly do you mean when you say ‘God’?” But it was late, and I was far more concerned about going home.
I’ve not said very much at all about the show or the performance; to me though, next to such existential and theological issues, I’d have to say it’s just not as interesting.

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