Goats Head Group

The Rolling Stones topping the UK charts this week with their Goats Head Soup album kind of makes a mockery of the last forty-seven years, to me.mini

I can recall when the album first came out. The single Angie really irritated me, especially as it was performed on Top of the Pops with a simpering Mick Jagger sat on a stool and the rest of the band looking all drugged-out standing behind him.

That album irked me, and I can tell you why.

For a start, I was fourteen and I did not like the band because they seemed too flash and glam, like Sweet and T Rex; I had been into ska and reggae with regard the pop scene, and as a result of listening to my sister’s records was graduating from the Moody Blues and King Crimson to Deep Purple and prog. Serious stuff, not campy miming on television. A couple of boys at the youth club used to march up and down the church hall strutting their stuff with stars and glitter attached to their faces when Brown Sugar was played. They looked ridiculous. On my portable cassette player the only recorded tape I had was Genesis’ Foxtrot and Black Sabbath’s first, which were played over and over.

I remember going round to my new friend’s house and seeing the original Goats Head Soup album cover featuring Mick Jagger’s enshrouded face stood by the hi-fi in the corner of the living room. I was fourteen and going to a school which I was by then learning to despise. The two went together, somehow. The Rolling Stones album in the awful living room, and my education. Yuk!

The house was situated within the Park Estate – which I’ve written about often enough in my fiction – and was emblematic of all the horrible changes taking place around me. Not only was I attending a creepy school which required I travel from my village first by bus for four miles into town (after standing in the winter rain and morning dark) and then a half-hour trek up a long, long hill, but my beloved woods were being torn down all around me and being replaced by estates of human hutches and hovels, purpose built for the London slum-dwellers taking up jobs in the factories in our nearby town on the M40. The owner of the Rolling Stones record standing beside the stereo was typical of the low/middle management types who had moved into the village with their youngish families and now could afford to buy all the tat that came their way: cameras, stereos, TVs, three-piece suites, cars. Yep, dad was a hepcat, all right, also with a penchant for John Lennon’s Mind Games (which I similarly loathed at the time, and for the same reasons), while the mother was a dragon and the eldest sister a wonderful example of how beautiful teenage minds are driven crazy by all the unassimilated bad faith operating around them. A new shopping strip called the Parade had been built to help the newcomers spend their earnings. I can see it now, all grey concrete squares. At one end was the chippy (where they watered down the vinegar, for sure), then came some indeterminate businesses like insurance sales and shoe shops, until you reached Bunces, the newsagent’s (where my days began at six a.m. without fail after I cycled down the hill to collect my papers and placed them in a big canvas shoulder bag – and whose proprietor’s fourteen year-old daughter became my girlfriend for a time: again, see my fiction) and then In Time, where they sold all sorts of stuff for the interior decoration of the new houses: clocks, lamps, vases, framed pictures and so forth; the concrete boxes stretching along until an extended section morphed into a supermarket whose name currently eludes me.

So how does the successful re-release of a so-so rock album make a mockery of almost five decades out of six spent on earth, kind of?

It’s because of the same theme touched upon in the last blogpost, of how so much seems to be happening all the time and still nothing changes: still the same old Tories in charge, mugging the British public, still the same old tat for sale, still the same old wars, still the same old internal and external enemies, still the same old establishment, still the same old – background music?

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The End of Summer 2020

On the thirtieth of June I went to the local praia fluvial up in the mountains and saw them putting up the taffeta umbrellas on the grass bank beside the natural water pool ready for this year’s summer bathers; today I went up there and saw the workmen taking them back down…

Two months..!

Really?

Since spring I have gained residence in another country, done up the house, planted the garden, completed two novels (one, KEY OF LOVE is currently available, the other, P is with an agent), treated a very bad case of Hepatitis C (following years of mis-diagnoses), all but finished a barn conversion – and yet…it feels like nothing at all has been accomplished!

Why..?

I think it’s because, despite everything, the world appears to be in such an on-going mess: endless wars, starvation, disease, systematic destruction of the environment – all, at least in part, the result of English-speaking peoples continually voting in corrupted and corrupting governments – with concomitant COVID lockdowns, so that regardless of individual effort, we keep ending up at square one…

To think that forty years ago it seemed the time was ripe in the west – and by extension, the rest of the world – to build on any societal and technical advances which had been made in the decades following WW2 – only to find that here we are back in the same old situation of grinding poverty and unnecessary conflict.

Such realities really do wear a person down, and maybe they are supposed to.

The one person who has done most to reveal the utter corruption of our so-called representatives is now sitting in virtual solitary confinement in a British jail awaiting illegal extradition to the Land of the Free: Julian Assange, while his jailers enjoy all the fruits of their ill-gotten gains, unreported in the mainstream, complicit press.

Summer comes to an end, nothing changes, and we keep having to challenge apparently freely-elected individuals who really do not have the electorates’ best interests at heart but will, in fact, tell any lie they can get away with in order to hang on to power.

Yet again, we find that our only oppressors are members of our own society and that any lack of social progress is entirely down to our own feeble choices.

Oh, for another Winter of Discontent!

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Meetings

Have you ever considered the reason there appears to be so much evil in the world might be because there is so much love..!DSC_0244

Up in the Himalayas, in the Kullu Valley, the April before last, I heard English being spoken at a table on the terrace restaurant of the hotel whose owner I knew, and from whom I wanted to order a special meal of trout from the nearby river Bea for my wife’s and my wedding anniversary. In fact, the speaker at the table was Russian, but his spoken English was perfect. He was with his English girlfriend on a trip to scout out Ayurvedic provisions for the business he was hoping to set up. They were staying at the same hostel as us, up the road. First, we arranged to meet next day and show them a local temple, then altered our plans when a friend, M – , offered to take us on a day-long hike instead.

On a typically lovely Himalayan spring morning, we met up and started out through the cool forest and onward along a path our friend knew well. Approaching a dwelling where an acquaintance of his lived – and whose dog had recently killed a jaguar in the vicinity – we stopped off at a small shrine incorporated within the surrounding orchard and admired the images of snakes and serpents engraved into the wood and stone.

Only then was I sure that I recognised Arkady’s voice. I changed the conversation to books and book-writing, and he explained how he had recently issued a three-part series containing his own fiction set on an invented south-sea island, and had recorded the narrative in order to help foreigners learn the Russian language.

‘Hahaha!’ I laughed, explaining how I had bought the books and downloaded the audio accompaniment just a few months prior, in an attempt to revive my waning memory of the language. I had them on my laptop back at the hostel, nearly forgotten while we travelled through northern India.

So, just yesterday, on a trip back to the UK, I took the London-Stratford-upon-Avon train and climbed off at the station where Arkady was waiting for me. We were joined by his wife – eight months pregnant – and spent the afternoon exploring the old spa town in the English summer heat. He is a member of the Society of Authors and only hopes that he can continue to write following the birth of their child. I told him that so long as he was prepared to get up at four o’clock in the morning and make some headway while the world was silent, there was no reason at all why shouldn’t continue to write. After all, I had done it.

Oh, yes – back to the rather cryptic opening…

In a section of the Key of Love – and included within my other fictional work – it’s described how the universe is created throughout infinity by a single force and how this force permeates all being as we can know its existence, and how this force ceases to be comprehended should the personal ego close its bond to the totality.

Well, evil originates from the closed egoistic mind and not from the original force from which it cannot emerge; therefore the more egoism there is around us, the greater the backdrop to the original binding force.

Unfortunately, since the rise of monetarism and its exaltation of personal greed, there has been a greater encouragement and acceptance of egoistic desires, so that presently this way of living has been allowed to become an encircling background for all to acknowledge –while the activities of love, fortunately, continue to play out ever brighter in the foreground.

With forbearance, the former will become even clearer against that which currently obscures all reality.

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Travelling

fiat dobloSelling our beloved Fiat Doblo today…right now it’s up on the hydraulic jacks of the local garage getting its brakes and rear suspension sorted all in preparation for – I hope – some happy souls to continue its and their journey into the extended unknown…

Meanwhile listening to Bob Dylan’s most recent offering and reckoning it’s by far away his best album of songs ever (I never was a fan, not even now…). His Murder Most Foul is the best account of JFK’s assassination that I have personally come across: a great eulogy to its significance and place in twentieth century All-American culture (if that’s not too much of an affected oxymoron…)

Certainly His Nobel Prize for Literature makes just a little more sense after this offering.

Plus Key West (Philosopher Pirate) operates on pretty much the same level…and reminds me how an intended road trip down that way was aborted some years ago.

After our long and sometimes repeated trips through Europe, it makes sense to sell our old-time metallic friend. There are no hard feelings. We’re living in a different country – I mean, really and not metaphorically (although that other meaning could be true, too). The cost of matriculating the piece of machinery has made the process inevitable, anyhow.

All of which makes me think pleasantly ahead.

This year: family gathering and consolidation

Next year: Camino and Russia (Dostoevsky’s Bi-Centennial)

2022: road trip to Key West and down on to Cuba

Yeh, sorted!

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Wandering & Wondering

My hometown is regularly voted in among the UK’s top ten Most Boring towns, largely because it contains all the usual high street brands, cinema chains and national supermarkets, and no longer has any kind of bohemian section. In other words, it has been homogenised and sanitised through town-planning and gentrification, and that’s the way the people like it, I guess. What’s more, it has become something of a dormitory town for those who work in the capital but can barely afford the cost of living in such a grand metropolis, thus removing the heart from ordinary daily activities.high wycombe b&w

I’m not saying those who vote are unfair, but it is to neglect that the town still contains the arcaded Guild Hall and similarly fashioned Corn Exchange at the end of its High Street, and a series of lovely old pubs from the Three Tuns at one end to the Antelope and Falcon by the aforementioned buildings – albeit the latter is now a bloody Wetherspoons. The Red Lion statute remains standing proudly atop the columned white portico halfway along.

At the time of my grandad, they still drove sheep up through the town, and are still permitted to do so by right – though I have never seen this actually happen.

The street market still operates but is a shadow of its former existence, with no stalls selling everyday fresh vegetables, meat or fish – unless your diet contains yams and green bananas. And you can eat great Turkish and Asian street food; otherwise, it’s all bongs and travel bags.

On the Saturday street market used to be a stall beneath the Guild Hall which sold cheap jewellery and we regularly walked the four miles from our village down through the fields and by way of the cemetery across the railway bridge to the centre of town in order to peruse what they had on display. One particular ring caught my fancy, a painted shiny black and chromium skull ring with clasps so that it could fit nearly any finger. That went straight on my left-hand middle digit, at a cost of two bob, sixpence less than the half-crown I saved by pocketing my dinner money. Plus, I had a paper round which paid 7s/6d. So, quids in.

Another stall sold little bottles of scented oils, like musk and strawberry. My favourite was patchouli, which I applied liberally to my neck and wrists (and even my Afghan coat later), enjoying the gloriously woody aroma wafting about my being as I went round the town. That scent has never been reproduced, not even during a recent trip to India where much of the prized oil is still manufactured. Also on that stall, apart from king-size Rizla, they sold little patches of woven cotton with simple designs and words like LOVE and PEACE or KEEP ON TRUCKIN’. Many a Sunday evening was passed with me rooting through mum’s Quality Street sewing tin, seeking out needles and the right-coloured thread before sewing the patches onto my jeans or denim jacket.

Metal studs were sold at the same jewellery stall under the Guild Hall, and were pushed through the material of the clothing – usually denim or leather – to ornament the shoulders, sleeves or cuffs, sometimes with a pattern on the back or placed strategically round the pockets of denim jeans.

A shop across the way by the Corn Exchange named Fosters quaintly displayed women’s clothing in one window and men’s the other side. There we espied matching pale-green brushed denim jackets and jeans and someone came up with the idea of us each buying a set and forming a uniformed gang. The Polecats was the name agreed upon until it was discovered that the animal was a kind of tree-climbing skunk and not the vicious land-based predatory feline of our imaginations. The gang was never officially formed, but we continued to hang around in each other’s company for a good while after and I did in fact buy the aforementioned clothes. I didn’t much like them on, though. They looked a bit sickly.

Driving back the other day with dad from town and cutting across at Four Ashes (where he and his brothers had seen a ghost) and along the lane overlooking Hughenden Valley as far as St Michael and All Angels church, seen beneath billowing white clouds, we stopped to look at the development taking place at the old Uplands conference centre. A purpose-built and modernist structure of glass and metal added to the original EB Lamb building, it never really caught on as a destination and has been lying disused for some years now. Typically, it is being converted into apartments, which I suppose will retail at something near half-a-million pounds apiece, what with the view and all. The same kind of development is occurring at the factory where I had my first proper job near Saunderton in the Aylesbury Vale, producing the contraceptive pill along with medical castration tablets and acne cream, in a grand-looking building which resembles the American White House. I’m not sure these apartments will fetch as much, however, given their non-elevated location.

Up at the disused conference centre, dad remarked how the land had belonged to Lady Murray, in connection with a conversation we’d been having about how local dignitaries used to visit the nearby schools and the children all had to stand up behind their desks in admiration of the personage now in their presence. What they were supposed to be admiring was never made perfectly clear, just simply understood as such. Most likely the visitor was being admired for their social station and wealth. I asked him if that would be the same Murray family which gave their name to the town’s only department store back in the sixties. When the time came to build the UK’s first shopping mall – called the Octagon for obvious reasons – the main entrance came by way of access through the store, which must have been a scheme cooked up by the local councillors and representatives of the land-owning family back then, in much the same way the Dashwoods – under the auspice of the Lord himself – have made a mint through selling off their land for more recent developments by the council.

Actually, it was from the development of the Octagon that the town centre grew into the near-sterile commercial wasteland that is currently always voted into the top ten Most Boring towns. The monetary die of mind-numbing affluence was cast with that decision, along with the one taken to concrete-over the Wye, which is formed by fresh water emerging from chalk streams beneath the Chiltern Hills at West Wycombe, joined with streams from Hughenden and Wycombe Marsh, and flows through the valley along a ten-mile stretch which used to incorporate several mills up to its confluence with the Thames at Bourne End. Two man-made mini-disasters based on money-making leading to a concrete desert where the only Eden to be found is the tunnel-like shopping project which is more or less an extension of the original sixties mall. Boring, in other words.

Still, maybe next year the town will not be voted onto the list on account of its football team being promoted to the EFL Championship after beating its nearby M40 rivals Oxford United in the play-offs. The raw vibe of that success may carry across to resuscitate the heart of the town. Especially since they play their football to a rock n roll rhythm (their manager fronts a rock band and they are sponsored by a music label). Certainly when I used to watch Wycombe Wanderers beneath the floodlights on midweek evenings at Loakes Park as a boy, I very much felt the quiver of life within me as I stood in the surrounding darkness of the terraces – but then I felt it all the time back then, pretty much as I do to this day.

*

As a result of being on a covid-restricted twenty-four hour ferry crossing, and in the spirit of my proposed novel P, I composed this prose poem, called Wandering and Wondering – or

P is for the Mask you wear

P is for Plenty.

P is for Penury.

We should have got the former, but instead we got the latter.

Worldwide.

Should not could.

Privatisation took it all away – from us.

Privat-I-sation paved the way for a few exalted Is of Plenty and many, many more Is of Penury.

Public-I-sation will save the day.

If privat-eye-sation hasn’t saturated the entire nation and now at last when we can see it is too late for public-eye-sation and honest conversation to provide true radicalisation without prison for a penalty.

They – the Is of Plenty – are throwing the radicals into OUR gaols.

Too late, then, as I head for the Land of My Forebears on a ship – no Black Star Liner – from the Basque Country into isolation.

My nation requires isolation for a solution to the ultimate failed state intrusion.

Who would a thunk it: Penury in place of Plenty, even when back then when the police were battering the public in the land of their forebears into submission at the behest of the state?

And yet it was clear.

We should have got the latter, but instead we got the former when the private Is took precedence above the public eye space.

Think about that next time you pull on your mask.

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